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Photo © Tom Caravaglia

Born in Baltimore on January 31, 1937, Philip Glass discovered music in his father's radio repair shop where records also were sold. When certain ones sold poorly, he would take them home and play them for his three children, trying to discover why they didn't appeal to customers. These happened to be recordings of the great chamber works, and the future composer rapidly became familiar with Beethoven quartets, Schubert sonatas, Shostakovich symphonies, and other music then considered "offbeat." It was not until he was in his late teens that Glass began to encounter more "standard" classics.

Glass began study of the violin at six and became serious about music when he took up the flute at eight. But by the time he was 15, he had become frustrated with the limited flute repertory as well as with musical life in post-war Baltimore. During his second year in high school, he applied for admission to the University of Chicago, passed, and with his parents' encouragement, moved to Chicago where he supported himself with part-time jobs waiting tables and loading airplanes at airports. He majored in mathematics and philosophy, and in off hours practiced piano and concentrated on such composers as Ives and Webern.

At 19, Glass graduated from the University of Chicago and, determined to become a composer, moved to New York and the Julliard School. By then he had abandoned the 12-tone techniques he had been using in Chicago, and preferred the works of American composers like Aaron Copland and William Schuman.


By the time he was 23, Glass had studied with Vincent Persichetti, Darius Milhaud, and William Bergsma. He had rejected serialism and preferred such maverick composers as Harry Partch, Ives, Moondog, Henry Cowell, and Virgil Thomson, but he still had not found his own voice. Still searching, he moved to Paris and undertook two years of intensive study under Nadia Boulanger.

In Paris, Glass was hired by a filmmaker to transcribe the Indian music of Ravi Shankar in notation readable by French musicians, and in the process, discovered the techniques of Indian music. Glass promptly renounced his previous music and, after researching music in North Africa, India, and the Himalayas, returned to New York and began applying Eastern techniques to his own work.


By 1974, he had composed a large collection of new music, much of it for use by the theater company Mabou Mines (Glass was one of the co-founders of that company), and most of it composed for his own performing group, the Philip Glass Ensemble. This period culminated in Music in 12 Parts, a three-hour summation of Glass' new music, and reached its apogee in 1976 with the Philip Glass/Robert Wilson opera Einstein on the Beach, the four and one-half hour epic now seen as a landmark in 20th century music-theater.

Glass' output since Einstein has ranged from opera (Satyagraha, Akhnaten, Hydrogen Jukebox, and others) to film (Koyaanisqatsi, Mishima, The Thin Blue Line, A Brief History of Time, and others) to dance (A Descent into the Maelstrom and In The Upper Room), to theater pieces such as The Photographer and 1000 Airplanes on the Roof. Among his more recently completed works are the Low Symphony based on music of David Bowie and Brian Eno, and The Voyage, commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera.

Music excerpts:
la Belle et la Bète

performed by the Philip Glass Sensemble
Nonesuch 79347-2 (c) & (p) 1995 Nonesuch Records

Mr. Suso #2 with Reflection

performed by the Philip Glass Sensemble with Foday Musa Suso
Nonesuch 979192-2 (c) & (p) 1988 Electra/Asylum/Nonesuch Records