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The Poet Speaks - A Homage To Allen Ginsberg by Patti Smith and Philip Glass

Edinburgh Playhouse
five stars
Rock and roll, Beat poetry and contemporary classical music aren't 
exactly staples of Edinburgh International Festival's programme. The 
appearance of composer Philip Glass and singer, poet and shamanic force 
of nature Patti Smith to pay homage to counter-cultural guru Allen 
Ginsberg, however, is a bold and unexpected move that should point the 
way for EIF's future. The New York duo's opening performance of Smith's 
Notes To The Future before an audience of ageing hippies and young 
bohemians is all too appropriate in this respect.

The evening is divided into four loose-knit sections. In the first, 
Smith reads words penned by both Ginsberg and herself, with Glass 
discreetly underscoring on the piano. As Glass leaves the stage, Smith 
is joined by guitarist Tony Shanahan, who accompanies her on emotive 
renderings of songs from her back pages. Glass returns to play three 
solo miniatures before Smith rejoins him for some final excursions into 
disembodied poetics. All this is accompanied by back-projected images 
of Ginsberg, from young rake to Beat generation icon to wise old sage.

This only hints at the sheer power of a compendium of work that goes 
gloriously off-piste from the advertised programme, with Smith 
pre-empting each song with readings of several Robert Louis Stevenson 
poems for children culled from a book she bought the day of the gig in 
a shop opposite Stevenson's birth-place. A sense of both their own and 
Ginsberg's mortality permeates the evening, and, while mournful and 
elegiac, the rolling thunder of Ginsberg's words becomes thrillingly 
transcendent in Smith's similarly unfettered delivery. By the end, 
Smith's arms are raised in an act of homage and salvation in a 
life-affirming evening to cherish.

The Herald, August 14th 2013

ends

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