Eelco Grimm’s Channel Classics Favorites 6 – Lavinia Meijer, Philip Glass

The year 2020 is coming to an end and with it the anniversary year of Channel Classics. This blog is therefore the last in my “Favorites” series. If favorite means that you listen to it often, then one album should certainly not be missing from my list: Philip Glass, Metamorphosis & The Hours by harpist Lavinia Meijer. Of all the albums I have from Channel Classics, I play this one most often without a doubt. And I’m probably not alone in that, because it is an absolute bestseller from their catalog.

I first heard Lavinia Meijer play in a fun little festival in the beautiful private country house Huis te Linschoten in 2008. The festival was called “1950 Volt” and revolved around music and atmospheres from the 50s. A central place was occupied by a reconstruction of the famous “Poème Electronique” of the Philips Pavillion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. The building was designed by architect/composer Xenakis, assistant of Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier himself coordinated the spectator’s experience in the pavilion that included a film of black and white photo stills. This film ran sync with the “Poème Electronique”, an electronic composition that was spatialized through no less than 350 loudspeakers (!). Its composer Edgar Varèse assembled the score in the studio for electronic music of Philips Natlab, next door of my later teacher Dick Raaijmakers. The original tapes were archived at the Institute of Sonology and it was the head of this institute Kees Tazelaar who presented the reconstruction in Linschoten, to celebrate its 50 year anniversary.

But I digress. As a brilliant contrast with these early electronic sounds, Lavinia Meijer invited the audience with her gentle harp playing. She was hidden as a “find and seek” act in one of the smallest rooms of the manor where just a handful of visitors could sit. She welcomed us with disarming enthusiasm and then enchanted everyone with her playing. It almost felt like a private concert, so intimate. Normally you experience such intimacy with top musicians only at home, through recordings.

Lavinia Meijer’s recordings for Channel Classics are all of such intimate solo work. Lavinia has the gift of luring you into her own world, and hypnotize you there. In 2009, a year after meeting her, I showed the well-known mix engineer George Massenburg the prototype of our LS1 loudspeaker at a pro audio fair in Germany. I played “Caplet a la Française” from Lavinia’s album “Divertissements”. George was completely overwhelmed. He said that it had been a “transformative experience”. I will leave open whether that comment was about the sound of the LS1 or about Lavinia’s harp playing. But it was a very special moment for sure.

The Philips pavilion at the 1958 Brussel’s World Fair (photo Wouter Hagens)

A few years later, Lavinia’s Philip Glass album was released, featuring Metamorphosis and The Hours. Although transcribed for harp, this music seemed as if written for her, and the composer agreed, stating “That sounds beautiful!” when she played it to him. Glass is one of the pioneers of minimal music, just like Terry Riley from my ‘Favorites 3’. During a composition study in Paris in the 1960s, he was attracted to modern film (such as of Jean-Luc Godard) and theatre. Through a film score composition that he worked on with Ravi Shankar, he became fascinated by the repetitive structure of Indian music. When he heard Steve Reich’s “Piano Phase” back in New York, everything fell into place and he started to build on his immense oeuvre with minimal music for film and theatre as a leitmotif.

“Metamorphosis” was written for a play around Kafka’s famous book with this title. It stems from 1988 when I was in college and met John Cage, as described in ‘Favorites 3’. I remember that around the same year a befriended bass player told me that he loved to walk in the city with a walkman on because “that turned reality into a movie”. Few music has that effect as strongly as Philip Glass’s, and I know of no performance that can draw me into its hypnotic world as much as Lavinia Meijer’s. Perhaps it is her almost Eastern combination of precision and tranquility that causes your breathing to slow down and your focus to increase. And whether you listen outside with headphones or enjoy the very high quality of the (Grimm AD1) DSD recording at home, you will witness a movie in your own world of thoughts, with your surroundings as the backdrop.

Eelco Grimm

You can purchase Lavinia Meijer, Philip Glass until February 28th with a 30% discount in the Channel Classics webshop. Use voucher code GRIMM06 for this.

Watch this great trailer of Lavinia playing Philip Glass on Youtube.

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