Tag Archives: Glenn Gould


“We begin as piano virtuosos and then start rummaging about and foraging in the human sciences and philosophy and finally go to seed. Because we didn’t reach the absolute limit and go beyond this limit, I thought, because we gave up in the face of a genius in our field. But if I’m honest I could never have become a piano virtuoso, because at bottom I never wanted to be a piano virtuoso, because I always had the greatest misgivings about it and misused my virtuosity at the piano in my deterioration process, indeed I always felt from the beginning that piano players were ridiculous; seduced by my thoroughly remarkable talent at the piano, I drilled it into my piano playing and then, after one and a half decades of torture, chased it back out again, abruptly, unscrupulously. It’s not my way to sacrifice my existence to sentimentality.” — The Loser, by Thomas Bernhard*

In the novel The Loser—Bernhard’s comedic 1983 screed on artistry, obsession, and mediocrity—a garrulous narrator recounts, with comedic vitriol, the lifelong consequences of a summer he and his friend Wertheimer spent with the young pianist Glenn Gould at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, all under the instruction of Vladimir Horowitz.

Once the narrator and Wertheimer—labeled “the loser” by Gould in the novel—finally realize that their talents will never equal Gould’s, they abandon their pianos. The narrator gives his Steinway to the nine-year-old daughter of a schoolteacher, who ruined it “in the shortest period imaginable, I wasn’t pained by this fact, on the contrary, I observed this cretinous destruction of my piano with perverse pleasure.”*

The narrator’s story had a profound effect on David Lang when he read the novel in the late 1990s: “I couldn’t read it silently. I ended up yelling the entire book to my reflection in the mirror in my bathroom, from start to finish, which was very exciting. And that day I started imagining what it would be like to add music to it.”

The result is Lang’s hour-long opera the loser. For his libretto, Lang was compelled by necessity to eliminate much of Bernhard’s text, including the long-winded political diatribes—there was nothing the Austrian author hated more than Austrian society. Lang’s focus was the persona of the narrator, and “managing our [changing] perceptions of a character” became the way to bring action to the piece.

Not that the protagonist moves around much. In Lang’s dramatic staging, the narrator stands atop a twenty-foot-high platform, suspended in space and performing exclusively for the audience in the balcony. (Orchestra seats are not occupied for the production.) During the second half of the loser a piano (and pianist) appear on stage, and delicate, ghostly sounds echo throughout the auditorium.

This astonishing work premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2016, with baritone Rod Gilfry as the narrator, and Conrad Tao on piano. The LA Opera Off Grand presentation of the loser brings both of these artists to downtown Los Angeles, joined by Bang on a Can OperaIsabel Hagen (viola), Mariel Roberts (cello), Pat Swoboda (double bass), Owen Weaver (percussion)—and conducted by Lesley Leighton.

The lighting design is by Jennifer Tipton, the sets by Jim Findlay, and costumes were designed by the performance and installation artist Suzanne Bocanegra.

the loser

Friday and Saturday, February 22 and 23, at 8 pm.

Theatre at Ace Hotel

929 South Broadway, downtown Los Angeles.

*Thomas Bernhard, The Loser, translated by Jack Dawson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991). Thomas Bernhard, Der Untergeher, © 1983 Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt.

From top: Rod Gilfry as the narrator in the loser; Gilfry (right) and Karina Cannelakis (conducting) in Brooklyn, 2016; Conrad Tao; David Lang; Gilfry (foreground) and Tao. Performance photographs of the loser by Richard Termine, September 2016, Howard Gilman Opera House, Brooklyn Academy of Music, © 2016 Richard Termine. Conrad Tao portrait by Brantley Gutierrez; David Lang portrait by Peter Serling.


In conjunction with the exhibition JUDSON DANCE THEATER—THE WORK IS NEVER DONE, members of the Stephen Petronio Company* will reconstruct Jag Vill Gärna Telefonera, the 1964 dance by Judson founding member Steve Paxton, as well as Paxton’s improvisation set to Glenn Gould’s rendition of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations.



Sunday through Tuesday, December 9, 10, and 11.

Thursday through Saturday, December 13, 14, and 15.

Performances at noon, 1:30 pm, and 3 pm.

Museum of Modern Art

11 West 53rd Street, New York City.

Performance brochure

*Bria Bacon, Ernesto Breton, Jaqlin Medlock, Tess Montoya, Ryan Pliss, Nicholas Sciscione, Mac Twining, and Megan Wright.

Above and below: Steve Paxton.



Nicholas Sciscione will dance an excerpt from Steve Paxton’s GOLDBERG VARIATIONS during the opening weekend of Cathy Weis Project’s Sundays on Broadway fall 2018 season.

Sciscione dances with the Stephen Petronio Company, and is an assistant to the artistic director.

Also on the bill: Patricia Hoffbauer and David Thomson will perform their DARK & STORMY—WHEN THINGS GET ROUGH, GRAB PUSSY.

And Weis will show excerpts of videos she shot in the mid-’80s of Paxton improvising in Philadelphia and Vermont to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, played by Glenn Gould.



Sunday, November 4, at 6 pm.

WeisAcres, 537 Broadway, #3, New York City.

Steve Paxton, Goldberg Variations, danced by Nicholas Sciscione, photographed by Julie Lemberger.


BLACK AND BLUR—writings by Fred Moten on artists and musicians including Charles Mingus, David Hammons, and Glenn Gould—is the first volume of CONSENT NOT TO BE A SINGLE BEING, a trilogy of essays published in the fifteen years since In the Break (2003), Moten’s landmark investigation of jazz, sexual identity, and radical black politics.

This weekend, join Moten and Sondra Perry at Frieze New York.



Saturday, May 5, at 2 pm.

Frieze New York

Randall’s Island, New York City.

Image credit above: Duke University Press.

Below: Fred Moten. Photograph by Robert Adam Mayer.