Thursday, October 16, 2008

Glenn Branca on his symphony for 100 guitars in STL

In a previous post, I mentioned that The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and composer Glenn Branca are recruiting 100 local guitarists to perform his symphony for 100 guitars “Symphony No. 13 (Hallucination City)” at The Pageant, on Thursday, November 13 at 8 p.m. They also will perform the music of Frank Zappa and Edgard Varese - and the world premiere of Branca’s new work, the first movement of his “Symphony No. 14 (The Harmonic Series).”

Branca consented to a brief match of email pingpong with me about this performance. It went something like this:

Me: How did your performance with SLSO come to be? I assume David Robertson is familiar with your work? We can't hear too much about David's good work here and how he is perceived by working composers.

Glenn Branca:

It happened very fast and there wasn't much to it. I got an email from David requesting a meeting. Since he only lives about 20 blocks away from me in Manhattan, it was no big deal. I didn't know what he wanted to talk about, but anything Mr. Robertson might want to talk about was going to be of interest to me. We met at the Starbucks around the corner from his apartment.

The rest is history........ Well, actually, after asking me about the 100 guitar piece he mentioned that the SLSO would be performing on the same program, which I must say was more than a little surprising AND intriguing ....... but, thinking quickly, I suggested that maybe he'd be interested in a new piece for the orchestra from me. He immediately said yes. It was about the easiest and most satisfying business meeting I've ever had.
Me: What can a guitarist who signs up to contribute expect from the experience that will be new or adventurous?

Glenn: It's a bit of a trial, 20 hours of rehearsal and the performance all over a period of 3 days. If any musicians want to know what the experience is like I would suggest checking out this article written by a musician who was in the Seattle performance and another article by one who was in the London performance.

Me: The subtitle of the piece is "Hallucination City." Is that a metaphor, or is it based on psychedelic experiences?

Glenn: Originally the piece was commissioned by the French government for their year 2000 celebration, and they wanted me to write a piece for 2,000 guitars. Considering the nature of my music and the acoustic phenomena that often occurs, I couldn't help but imagine the sound that 2,000 guitars would make. But, alas, it was not to be, although I had been paid to write the piece. Later, I got a chance to do it in NYC for 100 guitars but still kept the name cause it sounded pretty cool anyway.

Me: Ever been to St. Louis before? What are your perceptions and expectations of the city and symphony?

Glenn: Only ever been to the airport in St. Louis, so it's all gonna be new to me. I do know that the orchestra is one of the best in the world, from recordings that I've heard, and am looking forward to hearing my new piece played by such a fantastic group of musicians.


Musicians interested in joining the guitar orchestra may contact Glenn Branca at for a detailed information sheet.

The Branca concert is part of the Saint Louis SymphonyOrchestra’s first Guitar Festival, a week of performances by guitarists Steve MacKay, Jason Vieaux, John Patitucci and violinist Leila Josefowicz.

Tickets for all performances may be purchased online at, by phone at 314-534-1700 or in person at 718 North Grand Blvd.


Photo of Glenn with local musicians at a 2006 performance of the piece in New Jersey from one of the musicians' Flickr site.

1 comment:

Brett said...

As much as I dislike the Pageant, I'm really looking forward to this show!
Thanks for posting more news about it.