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Issued 18 August 2008

Based on the Poetry and Images of LEONARD COHEN

“A hypnotic collaboration … Book of Longing is the freshest, most supple and varied score [Philip Glass] has written in several years.” The New York Times

“Cohen’s writing is full of turbulence, ambivalence and brash self-realisation. It has added punch, thanks to projections of his stunning drawings … All this has clearly inspired some of Glass’ most overtly sensual, deeply theatrical music in a score with echoes of Schubert, Kurt Weill, and Cohen … An audacious work with a massive magnetic pull.” Chicago Sun-Times.

Sydney Opera House presents an exceptional new concert work, Book of Longing, by Philip Glass based on the poetry and images of Leonard Cohen on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 October in the Concert Hall.

Featuring new music by celebrated American composer and performer Philip Glass and inspired by legendary Canadian poet, musician and artist Leonard Cohen’s book of the same name, Book of Longing is an evening-length concert work composed for ensemble, singers, spoken word and imagery. The production is a culmination of years of mutual admiration between two of the most respected artists of their generation.  It is a spectacular union of living legends with Glass interpreting Cohen’s poetry with an elegant and hypnotic score.

In 2006, Cohen - one of the most important and influential songwriters of our time - published two decades of poetry and sketches. Typical of Cohen, Book of Longing, is a meditative, provocative and playful collection of ballads, previously unpublished poems, illustrations and comic reflections as well as some deeply spiritual meditations resulting from his eight years spent at the Mount Baldy Buddhist monastery.

Philip Glass has conceived the concert as a collection of poetry from each of these loose categories to run as a continuous evening rather than a traditional song cycle. The music is performed by an ensemble of eight musicians including electronic keyboards (one played by Glass himself), flute/base clarinet, hand percussion, violin, cello, double bass and oboe/English horn that are visible on stage throughout the evening. The music is directed by Glass’s long-time musical director Michael Reisman.

Four singers (Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Tenor and Bass-Baritone) sing lyrics pulled from Cohen’s poetry as soloists, as a quartet and in a variety of combinations throughout the evening. The performance incorporates Cohen’s recorded recitations of some of the verse. His images are also prominently incorporated into the set.  Prior to this production, the visual artwork of Cohen had never been seen in conjunction with his music.

In creating Book of Longing, Philip Glass has collaborated with choreographer/director Susan Marshall, with whom he created the opera Les Enfants Terribles, to stage the musicians and singers. The set is designed by Christine Jones, with costumes by Kasia Walicka Maimone and lighting by Scott Zielinski.

Book of Longing premiered to much acclaim in 2007 at Canada’s Luminato Festival. It has been presented across the USA, Canada, Wales, UK, the Netherlands and Spain. It was a highlight of the 2007 Adelaide Bank Festival of Arts and will be presented at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 October.

Philip Glass has had a long and distinguished career as a collaborator and composer of music for opera, dance, theatre, chamber ensemble, orchestra and film including Notes on a Scandal, The Truman Show and The Hours, as well as his own operas Waiting for the Barbarians (2005) and Appomattox (2007) to name but a few of his major achievements. He is a prolific and accomplished artist who has dominated the musical consciousness of generations for over 50 years. In 2004, Sydney Opera House presented the Qatsi Triology, screenings of Godfrey Reggios’s three iconic films with Glass’s scores performed live by his own ensemble.

Leonard Cohen has been one of the most important and influential songwriters of our time, a figure whose body of work achieves greater depths of mystery and meaning as time goes on. His songs have set a virtually unmatched standard in their seriousness and range. Sex, spirituality, religion, power – he has relentlessly examined the largest issues in human lives, always with a full appreciation of how elusive answers can be to the vexing questions he raises.

His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967) announced him as an undeniable major talent. It includes such songs as Suzanne, Sisters of Mercy, So Long Marianne and Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, all now longstanding classics.

Part of the reason why Cohen’s early work revealed such a high degree of achievement is that he was an accomplished literary figure before he ever began to record. His dual careers in music and literature have continued feeding each other over the decades.

At 72, he continues to produce compelling work. Documentaries, awards, tribute albums and the ongoing march of artists eager to record his songs all acknowledge the peerless contribution Cohen has made to what one of his titles aptly calls ‘The Tower of Song’. He was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006 and to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.

“Listening to what Phil has done has provided me with a very special and rarefied pleasure. This is just like Bach asking if he could use your lyrics.” Leonard Cohen.

“For me, this work is both a departure from past work and a fulfilment of an artistic dream.” Philip Glass.

Book of Longing was commissioned by Luminato Festival of Arts and Creativity, Toronto; Adelaide Bank Festival of Arts; The Barbican Centre, London; Lincoln Center 2007. New York; Stanford Lively Arts, Stanford University; Universal of Texas at Austin Performing Arts Centre with support from the Topfer Endowment for Performing Arts Production; Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff; with additional support from the Ravinia Festival.

Season Details: Sydney
Venue:   Concert Hall   
Dates:   11 + 12 October
Time:  Saturday 8.00pm, Sunday 6.00pm
Duration: 1hr 35min no interval
Tickets: $65 to $119
Bookings:  (02) 9250 7777 /

Season Details: Melbourne
Venue:   State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre
Dates:   15, 16, 17 October
Time:   7.30pm
Duration: 1hr 35min, no interval
Tickets:      $110 - $ 36
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 136 166 / 

There will be a pre-show artist talk with Philip Glass in the Concert Hall Northern Foyer at 4.30pm, Sunday 12 October.


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