Philip Glass, Aboriginal art and extremely short plays for the weekend in Ottawa

The CBC's Sandra Abma puts three cultural events on her list for the weekend in Ottawa — a concert in tribute of the music of American composer Philip Glass; a vibrant, colourful retrospective of Aboriginal artist Alex Janvier and a festival of new plays that clock in at less than 10 minutes.

The CBC's Sandra Abma puts 3 cultural events on her list for the weekend in Ottawa

Iconic American composer Philip Glass will be honoured with The Glenn Gould Prize- a statue of the Canadian pianist and $100,000 purse on Saturday night at the NAC. (Raymond Meier)

Music that paved a new way, art that brightens the soul, and drama for people with short attention spans.

Those are three cultural events happening in Ottawa this weekend: a concert in tribute of the music of American composer Philip Glass, a vibrant and colourful retrospective of Aboriginal artist Alex Janvier, and a festival of new plays that clock in at less than 10 minutes.

'I never expected to be successful'

One of the major figures in modern music, Philip Glass, will be awarded the Glenn Gould Prize at concert in his honour at the National Arts Centre on Saturday night. The prize, named for the celebrated Canadian pianist, recognizes a lifetime of achievement in music.

Glass has his own Canadian connection — he lives part time in Cape Breton and collaborated with Leonard Cohen. 

"I feel great. Are you kidding me?" the composer laughed, about his latest honour, when reached at his home in New York City.

"I never expected to be successful. I began working in very small venues in lower Manhattan, playing store fronts and playing in galleries."

A prolific composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera and film scores, including The Hours and The Truman Show, Glass's music is instantly recognizable as his own — it feels contemporary and new, but woven with the trancelike rhythms of traditional Indian music and the classical structures of Bach. 

While his piano works can be lilting and gentle, Glass's orchestral works are often dynamic and pulsating with energy. His operas focus on the best in humanity, featuring the stories of his heroes, such as Gandhi, Buddha and Einstein set to music.

"Metamorphosis", refers to and was inspired by the 1915 short story The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. 5:36

As a young musician, Glass studied classical music at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, and won a Fulbright Scholarship to continue his studies in Paris but he was determined widen his influences and make music that reflected the changing world.

He found fertile ground in the vibrant arts scene of New York's East Village, where visual, performance and graffiti art was mixing with rock, house and modern music to create an atmosphere of change. 

"I didn't play in a concert hall until 1979," Glass recalled. "It was considered amplified music. They thought the paint would peel off the walls. I had a lot of resistance to this music." 

On Saturday, The Genius of Philip Glass is featuring a performance of his 7th Symphony by the National Arts Centre Orchestra in his honour.

Where: National Arts Centre, 53 Elgin St.

When: 8 p.m.

Cost: Tickets start at $25, but rush tickets for those between 13 and 29 years old are $15.

'This is really a story of Canada'

A massive blast of vibrant, vivid colour greets visitors to a huge new exhibition from Canadian Aboriginal artist Alex Janier.

The 82-year-old artist from Cold Lake First Nations in Alberta is an influential and prolific painter of enormous canvases, and 154 of them on are display in this show. Surveying one his giant paintings is much like deciphering a treasure map, with many symbols and signposts referring to his generation's experiences in Canada's Indian residential schools.
Alex Janvier visits Ottawa for the opening of his retrospective at the National Gallery. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

​"Everything you see in my paintings happened," Janvier said. "I have always observed things all my life, and I've been through the Indian residential schools, I was there for 11 years and I saw a lot of sad people who died or passed away because their system was broken down."

Despite the dark subtext, the paintings are full of hopeful colour and resilience.

"The paintings are laughing," said Janvier.

"I hope all Canadians can find themselves [in the work] because this is really a story of Canada, and if people see that, I hope they become landlords of this land."

Where: National Gallery of Canada, 380 Sussex Dr.

When: The show runs until April 2017.

Cost: $6 for children, $12 for adults, but every Thursday after 5 p.m., admission is free.

Extremely Short New Play Festival

Josh Sparks, Laura Hall, Linda Webster,Ray Besharah, Jinesea Lewis and Paul Williams- six local actors are taking part in the Extremely Short New Play Festival. (John Muggleton)

The premise of the Extremely Short New Play Festival is simple: 11 new plays, by 11 playwrights, each 10 minutes or less in length. The festival is presented by New Theatre Ottawa Company. Plays were commissioned by writers from around the globe, and they range from the absurd and hilarious, to the tragic.

"You might be scared, you might laugh, there are a few funny pieces," said the festival's artistic director John Koensgen.

"You might be touched, moved in a way that's surprising."

Where: The Avalon Theatre, 738A Bank St.

When: Nov. 26, 27 and Dec. 2, 3 and 4. Curtain rises at 8 p.m.

Cost: $23 at the door or online at

About the Author

Sandra Abma


Sandra Abma is a veteran CBC arts journalist. If you have an event or idea you want to share, please do at