‘Book of Longing’ leaves feeling of longing

Stanford Lively Arts kicked off its 2007-08 season Tuesday night in Memorial Auditorium with the West Coast premiere of “Book of Longing,” a composition by Philip Glass based on poetry by Leonard Cohen. Both artists attended the highly anticipated program.

The 100-minute performance offered up a sometimes funny, sometimes profound, sometimes perplexing mix of music, singing, spoken word and imagery focusing on Cohen’s themes of love, lust, disappointment and reflections on life.

Glass conducted and played keyboards; his ensemble of musicians playing saxophone, oboe, cello, bass and keyboards created some gorgeous instrumental solos (the highlight of the performance), while the vocalists’ efficiently spanned classical and new music in their interpretations of the nearly two dozen “songs” that make up the piece. The prologue and epilogue featured compelling voiceovers by Cohen himself.

Illustrations by Cohen, mostly portraits, projected at the back of the stage made for a dense melange of sounds and sights that didn’t truly come together as a cohesive unit after seeing and hearing it just one time.

While individual moments of the work spurred myriad thoughts and memories, the piece also raised lots of questions, and, in the end, a feeling of a need for resolution.

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