Composer and pianist Philip Glass is the headliner for this year’s Scotia Festival of Music.

Critics call his music “minimalist” but he describes it as “music with repetitive structures.” 

This is his second time at the festival, after a 1999 sell-out performance. Before that, he played in 1971 and 1972 with his ensemble (seven musicians playing keyboards and a variety of woodwinds, amplified and fed through a mixer) at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

“Nobody knew who I was in the ’70s,” says Glass, explaining the small crowd.

They know him now. Since then, he’s composed many operas, symphonies, and arrangements. He’s written music for Academy Award-winning motion pictures. His bio describes him as the first composer to win “a wide, multi-generational audience in the opera house, the concert hall, the dance world, in film, and in popular music–simultaneously.” 

Glass says audiences can expect smaller pieces this time. He’ll perform on the piano, accompanied by California violinist Tim Fain, on June 3 and 5 at the Dalhousie Arts Centre. On June 4 and 6 respectively, Canadian composer Peter Togni and Sri Lankan composer Dinuk Wijeratne will join Glass for an intimate chat about his craft.

Nova Scotia is familiar territory for Glass. He vacations with his family and other musicians in Cape Breton every year. “I’ve been going up…since the ’70s,” he says. “We do rehearsals up there. I like the people who live in the area and I like the looks of the area.” 

Glass says he’s most excited to meet the other musicians at Scotia Festival. “There’s so many different levels of experience,” he says, commenting on his experience in Winnipeg at a recent show. “There are many good players.”

Chris Wilcox, managing artistic director of Scotia Festival for 40+ years, believes it offers something special for performers. “There’s something magic about Scotia Festival,” he says. “Pierre Boulez, the famous composer and conductor of the New York Philharmonic, said that Scotia Festival is a living thing. An organism like a tree, it’s alive; it’s not just an event, it’s a living thing. I like that.” 

Getting big names like Glass and Boulez helps with future recruitment. “Pierre Boulez was here with his ensemble from Paris and now I can invite any guest artist I like … they’re curious to know what attracted Boulez to Scotia Festival,” Wilcox explains. “He doesn’t go to the Blossom Festival in Cleveland, he doesn’t go to Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony, but he did come here.”

The Scotia Festival of Music runs from May 27 to June 10.

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