Joanna Newsom and Philip Glass team up to save Bay Area library

Joanna Newsom

Philip Glass

By Hilary Gridley

Once a place to silently search through deep stacks for dusty books, libraries have evolved into exciting and dynamic spaces in recent years. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Henry Miller Library, which serves as a performance and workshop space for artists, musicians, students and writers in addition to its more traditional role of housing literary volumes. The library provides a tremendous service to the art-centric Bay Area, so when it needed help staying afloat, the musical community rushed to its rescue in a huge way.

Philip Glass, perhaps the most influential living composer, and celebrated harpist and indie songstress Joanna Newsom will take the stage together on Monday to raise money for the library. Executive Director Magnus Toren sparked the collaboration after federally mandated health and safety requirements forced him to put a hold on the very popular performances held at the library, which included such big names as singer/songwriter Marianne Faithfull and experimental musician Laurie Anderson. A friend of Glass and Newsom, Toren convinced the duo to help him ensure the long-term survival of the library with a once-in-a-lifetime benefit concert.

Glass’ oeuvre is extensive, to say the least — he has composed more than 20 operas, 10 symphonies, solo concertos for a wide range of instruments, music for several theater productions and a wide range of film soundtracks. He has been nominated for three Academy Awards for his work on film scores, and has collaborated with such heavy hitters as Paul Simon, Yo-Yo Ma and Leonard Cohen.

Newsom’s unique harp and other instrumental and vocal stylings have made her a prominent figure in the independent music scene. Her songs have been covered by such indie stars as The Decembrists and M. Ward, and her fans include MGMT and Jeff Mangum. Most recently, she contributed vocals to the soundtrack for “The Muppets.”

Monday’s concert, organized by local promoter (((folkYEAH!))) will take place at The Warfield in San Francisco and will also include violinist Tim Fain, a longtime friend of Glass’s. If the magnitude of the event seems like it outweighs the scale of the library, fear not: it is an indication of things to come. In his open letter to friends of library, Executive Director Toren says, “Yet it is precisely the nature of [the renovation’s] challenge that speaks to the incredible support we’ve enjoyed throughout the years: we’ve outgrown our facilities, and it’s simply time for the next chapter – one that is sustainable, compliant, and will improve the experience for every bewildered or starry-eyed visitor who steps through our gates.”

You can become a Friend of the Henry Miller Library and support the music the space here.


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