To honor Philip Glass' 75th birthday this year, we here at NPR Music commissioned Glass to create a short work that would be great fun for amateur and professional singers alike. A big part of what we do is to try to make all kinds of music engaging and accessible — and wouldn't it be great to invite anyone who wanted to come and sing in a world premiere by one of the most celebrated composers of our time?
So Glass took a work he had first written for soprano and instruments as part of his 1997 3-D "digital opera" Monsters of Grace, and arranged it for soloist and eight-part chorus. And were very lucky indeed to team up with the Make Music NY Festival, member station WQXR and the Times Square Alliance to realize this project at one of the world's most iconic spots, the Crossroads of the World, Times Square.
About 200 singers gathered to sing with the ebullient Kent Tritle, one of America's most accomplished and beloved choral conductors, and soprano soloist Rachel Rosales. (And a handful of singers were folks who had simply been walking by and were swept up in the moment.)
On this sweltering day, the singers' mindful intention to gather in Times Square and its visceral result — all breath and sweat and palpable effort in the middle of glossy Times Square, with stifling heat, noise and a zillion blinking distractions — was just amazing and honestly quite moving.
For his text, Glass selected words from the medieval Sufi Muslim poet Jalaluddin Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks. In his poetry, Rumi urges the reader to break free of the constraints of daily life — to upend expectations and jettison traditional thinking in an unending quest to unite with the divine. "Here's the new rule," Rumi wrote. "Break the wineglass, and fall towards the glassblower's breath." And somehow — beautifully, magically and only briefly — this fleeting chorus became the heartbeat of Times Square.