Einstein on the Beach

To the Barbican for five – or in this case almost disappointingly actually four – hours of the finest Philip Glass and Robert Wilson could throw at us. Einstein on the Beach may have premiered a whole thirty-six years ago – in many ways literally a lifetime – but it remains interesting, challenging and a memorable evening.

For the Glass and Reich-ophiles amongst you Einstein on the Beach represents a four-act slab (with intermezzi (intermezzos?)) of classic minimalism. And to see it performed in London’s premier Brutalist arts-and-housing complex elevated it to an almost unimaginable gesamtkunstwerk. The music is a pleasure, the settings a delight, the plot an obfuscation. There’s no denying that it’s long but I defy anyone to leave without finding something in it – and for many, everything about it – that they think is fantastic.

Which brings me on to Robert Mapplethorpe’s contemporary portrait of the two men. A wonderful photograph, Mapplethorpe’s work is both immediately attractive and open to almost endless analysis – an amazing bit of nonchalant posing, it remains as obvious and at the same time as coded as you could ever ask for from a portrait. Quite why in Camera Lucida Roland Barthes feels the need to question his attraction to Robert over Philip when looking at the photograph though is a mystery.

Giving a chunk of your life to a piece of music moves it to a different level – it was the same eight years ago for the sole performance at the Royal Academy in London of Morton Feldman’s For Philip Guston during the exhibition The Art of Philip Guston – it becomes possible to abstract yourself from the proceedings and engage with the work as a whole. To that end well done to the Barbican.

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