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THE '80s A Special Report : TASTE MAKERS : Presenting the big players and major ideas that--for better or worse--shaped the 1980s. This is Calendar's fifth annual Taste Makers report, expanded this time to cover the last 10 years in the following categories: Show Business Execs, Film Producers, Film Directors and Writers, Stage, TV, Music, Dance, Pop Music, Jazz, Comedy, Radio, Art and Restaurants. : MUSIC : PHILIP GLASS

December 24, 1989|JOHN HENKEN

Grand opera may seem an unlikely arena for popular and commercial success as a composer these days, but that is where Philip Glass has done his most influential work, beginning with "Einstein on the Beach" in 1976. That ground-breaking collaboration with Robert Wilson was followed by two more "portrait operas"--"Satyagraha" in 1980, "Ahknaten" in 1984--and a string of dramatic works large and small, produced around the world, up to the eco-opera "Mattogrosso" last July.

The composer--who will be 53 next month--has created a large crossover audience through exploitation of now classic minimalist devices presented with the glossy amplified sheen of pop energy and production values.

Glass' music is direct and insistent, built on oscillating arpeggios and scales in neo-modal progressions. It is a plastic, highly colored, dramatically adaptable music, which Glass has used most effectively in theater, film and dance scores. Its technical basis is easily grasped, which has earned it slurs in some quarters, ready imitation in others.

Although there are no future plans for "Mattogrosso" and "The Palace of the Arabian Nights" has been postponed indefinitely, his star will shine into the '90s. A national tour of "Einstein on the Beach" planned for 1991 may reach Los Angeles, Stuttgart will offer the portrait operas as a trilogy, and the Met has commissioned "The Voyage"--celebrating the 500th anniversary of Columbus' first journey to the Americas--for October 1992.

The Taste Makers project was edited by David Fox, assistant Sunday Calendar editor.

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