Interview with Olivier Glissant on Philip Glass’s “Aguas da Amazonia”


On March 13, the new Brooklyn Orchestra was slated to premiere a new orchestral arrangement of Philip Glass’s Aguas da Amazonia at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn. Sadly, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the concert las been postponed. Many thanks to AICA Caraïbe du Sud for sharing this interview with Martinique-born conductor and founder of the Brooklyn Orchestra Olivier Glissant by Richard Guérin.

Originally composed as sketches for piano (Seven or Eight Pieces for a Ballet) – then later interpolated by the Brazilian percussion group UAKTI.  In 2015 arranger Charles Coleman made an orchestration which was recorded by Kristjan Jarvi, the MRD Orchester of Leipzig, and the Absolute Ensemble which was recorded and released on OMM.  For this NY premiere of the piece, conductor and founder of the Brooklyn Orchestra Olivier Glissant, a native of Martinique, made his own orchestral version.

The backdrop to this concert is that the long-time orchestra of Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Philharmonic went under in 2012 after being founded in 1954.  It had Glass-champion at the helm for five years in the 1990s and premiered both Glass’s First and Second Symphonies.

I took the time to sit down with conductor Olivier Glissant to talk about this month’s concert:

Richard Guérin: I lived in Brooklyn for many years.  People in Brooklyn know about the history of the illustrious Brooklyn Philharmonic at BAM and the eventual demise of the orchestra in 2012. Tell me a little bit about your orchestra, the Brooklyn Orchestra, and your artistic hopes for the group.

Olivier Glissant: There were a two main impulses which led me to create the orchestra. First, my intention was to attempt to give one more platform to new music and contemporary, active composers, whose works get played much less than established, well known classics. I also hoped to broaden the orchestral repertoire in order to include more of today’s music which does not necessarily fit the classical mold. I wanted to be able to experiment with music from different cultures so that I could appeal to an audience that is not familiar with the symphonic world, while at the same time exposing the traditional classical music audience to new works and new perspectives.

Brooklyn’s population is incredibly diverse and I wanted to create an ensemble that would reflect this multicultural aspect and develop its repertoire accordingly in order to offer a more global representation of today’s music.

RG: Tell me about the program that people will hear on march 13th including where it will take place:

OG: The concert will take place at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn. We are presenting a new symphonic orchestration of “Aguas da Amazonia”, which was written by Philip Glass for Uakti, a Brazilian ensemble that plays only instruments that they build. I have always been fascinated by this piece, and wanted to present an orchestral version that did not require those special instruments or players, so as to allow a regular symphony orchestra to play it. I grew up in the Caribbean, at the intersection of the Americas, and was deeply influenced by music from all parts of the continent, but especially Brazilian music, which is how I connected with Philip Glass in the first place. We are also presenting two of my pieces, “Echaurren” (Sketches of a Continent), for string orchestra, and “Egyptian Nights” for full orchestra.

Echaurren is the real name of Chilean painter Roberto Matta. My father (who was a poet but had also a great art critic) wrote texts for many artists, especially during their exhibitions at the Galerie du Dragon in Paris, and I was fortunate to enough to see a lot of them. The gallery was the passage to Europe for many of the great Latin American artists of the 20th century, such as Wifredo Lam, Roberto Matta, Agustin Cardenas, Pancho Quilici (whose painting I used for the concert poster). These artists influenced me profoundly and I wanted to pay hommage to them and to this legendary art gallery and its founders.

“Egyptian Nights” is based on a short story by Alexander Pushkin, and evokes the process of improvisation in artistic creation, which is a crucial element in the history of art in the Americas (like Jazz and so many other genres of music).

For full article, see

Also see  artist’s page and

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