Hydrogen Jukebox

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Hydrogen Jukebox
Chamber opera by Philip Glass
Philip Glass in Florence, Italy - 1993.jpg
The composer in 2006
May 26, 1990 (1990-05-26)

Hydrogen Jukebox is a chamber opera featuring the music of Philip Glass and the work of beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Its name is taken from a phrase coined by Ginsberg, from his poem Howl.


Of the project, Glass said:

"In 1988...I happened to run into Allen Ginsberg at St. Mark's Bookshop in New York and asked him if he would perform with me. We were in the poetry section, and he grabbed a book from the shelf and pointed out Wichita Vortex Sutra. The poem, written in 1966 and reflecting the anti-war mood of the times, seemed highly appropriate for the occasion. I composed a piano piece to accompany Allen's reading, which took place at the Schubert Theater on Broadway.
"Allen and I so thoroughly enjoyed the collaboration that we soon began talking about expanding our performance into an evening-length music-theater work. It was right after the 1988 presidential election, and neither Bush nor Dukakis seemed to talk about anything that was going on. I remember saying to Allen, if these guys aren't going to talk about the issues then we should."

The piece was intended to form a portrait of America covering the 1950s through the late 1980s. Glass and Ginsberg sought to incorporate the personal poems of Ginsberg, reflecting on social issues: the anti-war movement, the sexual revolution, drugs, eastern philosophy, environmental issues. The six vocal parts were thought to represent six archetypal American characters- a waitress, a policeman, a businessman, a cheerleader, a priest, and a mechanic.

Ginsberg said:

"Ultimately, the motif of Hydrogen Jukebox, the underpinning, the secret message, secret activity, is to relieve human suffering by communicating some kind of enlightened awareness of various themes, topics, obsessions, neuroses, difficulties, problems, perplexities that we encounter as we end the millennium.
"The title Hydrogen Jukebox comes from a verse in the poem Howl: '...listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox...' It signifies a state of hypertrophic high-tech, a psychological state in which people are at the limit of their sensory input with civilization's military jukebox, a loud industrial roar, or a music that begins to shake the bones and penetrate the nervous system as a hydrogen bomb may do someday, reminder of apocalypse."

The work formally premiered May 26, 1990 at the Spoleto Music Festival in Charleston, SC. However, the workshop staged version had premiered one month earlier at the American Music Theater Festival held in the Plays and Players theater, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia, PA on April 26. It ran there until May 6th, followed on that closing night by an invitation-only reception attended by Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg and other members of the company was held nearby.

The Australasian premiere was given on April 17, 2003 at the Mount Nelson Theatre (Hobart, Tasmania) by the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music, conducted by Douglas Knehans and directed by Robert Jarman.


Part one[edit]

  • "Song #1 from Iron Horse"
  • "Song #2 Jahweh and Allah Battle"
  • "Song #3 from Iron Horse"
  • "Song #4 To P. O."
  • "Song #5 from Crossing Nation; Over Denver Again; Going to Chicago and To Poe: Over the Planet, Air Albany-Baltimore"
  • "Song #6 from Wichita Vortex Sutra'

Part two[edit]

  • "Song #7 from Howl"
  • "Song #8 from Cabin in the Rockies"
  • "Song #9 from Nagasaki Days (Numbers in Red Notebook)"
  • "Song #10 Aunt Rose"
  • "Song #11 from The Green Automobile"
  • "Song #12 from N. S. A. Dope Calypso"
  • "Song #13 from Nagasaki Days (Everybody's Fantasy)"
  • "Song #14 Ayers Rock/Uluru Song and "Throw out the Yellow Journalists...""
  • "Song #15 Father Death Blues (from Don't Grow Old)"


World Premiere (Spoleto festivals)

  • Martin Goldray - conductor
  • Philip Glass - piano
  • Phillip Bush - keyboards
  • Alan Johnson - keyboards
  • Nelson Padgett - keyboards
  • Jack Kripl - winds
  • Rex Benicasa & James Pugliese- percussion
  • Richard Peck Jr- winds
  • Suzan Hanson - soprano
  • Darynn Zimmer - soprano
  • Linda Thompson - mezzo-soprano
  • Richard Fracker - tenor
  • Thomas N. Potter - baritone
  • James Butler - bass
  • Allen Ginsberg - narrator
  • Jerome Sirlin - production design


  • Martin Goldray - keyboards, conductor
  • Philip Glass - piano
  • Carol Wincenc - flute
  • Andrew Sterman - soprano saxophone, bass clarinet
  • Frank Cassara & James Pugliese- percussion
  • Richard Peck - tenor saxophone
  • Elizabeth Futral - soprano
  • Michele Eaton - soprano
  • Mary Ann Hart - mezzo-soprano
  • Richard Fracker - tenor
  • Gregory Purnhagen - baritone
  • Nathaniel Watson - baritone
  • Allen Ginsberg - narrator
  • Jerome Sirlin - production design

External links[edit]