Born: January 31, 1937 Primary Instrument: Composer/conductor
Philip Glass, early protagonist of the Minimalist movement, studied with Milhaud and Nadia Boulanger. His first job, assisting Ravi Shankar on a film soundtrack, heralded the start of his own successful cinema career, and to date he has scored over fifty movies. Early works tended to be abstract, but from the mid-1970s his attention shifted towards the stage. His first operatic triumph, Einstein on the Beach, did much to reinvigorate the international contemporary opera scene. Profoundly interested in traditional cultures, Glass often draws on Eastern traditions, as in Monsters of Grace (1997), a multimedia collaboration based on the writings of Rumi.
Born in Baltimore on January 31, 1937, Philip Glass discovered music in his father's radio repair shop. In addition to servicing radios, Ben Glass carried a line of records and, 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 upper teens did Glass begin to encounter more 'standard' classics.
Glass began 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 repertoire 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 moved to New York City to attend the Juilliard School. During this time, he abandoned the 12-tone techniques he used in Chicago and explored the works of American composers like Aaron Copland and William Schuman. Eventually Glass would study with Vincent Persichetti, Darius Milhaud and William Bergsma. Rejecting serialism, Glass gravitated to such maverick composers as Harry Partch, Ives, Moondog, Henry Cowell and Virgil Thomson, but still had not found his own voice. In 1960, he moved to Paris and spent two years of intensive study under Nadia Boulanger. It was in Paris that filmmaker Conrad Roods hired Glass to transcribe ragas by Ravi Shankar's into western notation. During this process, Glass discovered the techniques of Indian music. After researching music in North Africa, India and the Himalayas, he returned to New York and applied these techniques to his own work.
By 1974, Glass had composed a large collection of new music for his performing group, The Philip Glass Ensemble, and music for the Mabou Mines Theater Company, co- founded by Glass. This period culminated in Music in 12 Parts (1974), a three-hour summation of Glass' new music, followed by the landmark opera, Einstein on the Beach (1976), a five- hour epic created with Robert Wilson that is now seen as a landmark in 20th century music-theater. This work, the first in Glass's 'portrait' trilogy, was followed by Satyagraha, created for the Netherlands Opera in 1980, and Akhnaten, for the Stuttgart Opera in 1984. Over the years, Glass and Wilson worked on several other projects including Civil Wars (Rome) (1984), the fifth act of a multi-composer epic written for the 1984 Olympics; White Raven (1991), an opera commissioned by Portugal to celebrate its history of discovery and premiering at EXPO '98 in Lisbon and in 2001 at the Lincoln Center Festival, and Monsters of Grace (1998), a digital 3-D opera.
Beyond these landmark works, Glass' repertoire spans the genres of opera, orchestra, chamber ensemble, dance, theater, and film and includes collaborations with a variety of distinctive contemporary artists. His operas include The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1986) and Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five (1997) with librettos written by Doris Lessing based on her novels; Hydrogen Jukebox (1990) with a libretto by Allen Ginsberg based on his poetry; The Voyage (1992), based on the explorations of Christopher Columbus with a libretto written by David Henry Hwang; The Fall of the House of Usher (1988), based on the Edgar Allen Poe short story with a libretto by Arthur Yorinks; and In the Penal Colony (2000), a musical theater work based on the short story by Franz Kafka with a libretto by Rudolf Wurlitzer. Glass' most recent opera collaborations include Galileo Galilei (2002) with Mary Zimmerman and The Sound of a Voice (2003) with David Henry Hwang.
No less varied are Glass' orchestral works. There are large- scale works for chorus and orchestra such as Itaipu (1989) and Symphony No. 5 (1999), a symphonic chorus based on texts from wisdom traditions throughout the world, Symphony No. 2 (1996), commissioned by the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, Symphony No. 3 (1996), Symphony No. 6 (Plutonian Ode) (2001), with text by Allen Ginsberg, and 'Low' and 'Heroes' Symphonies (1992, 1997), both based on the music of David Bowie and Brian Eno. Glass also produced a five string quartets as well as concertos for violin and orchestra, saxophone quartet and orchestra, two timpanists and orchestra, and harpsichord and orchestra. His Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2000) premiered at the Klanspuren Festival in Tirol, Austria, and his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (2001), commissioned for Julian Lloyd Webber's 50th Birthday, premiered at the Beijing Festival.
Beyond the genres of opera, orchestra, and film scores, Glass also has a number unclassifiable dance, theater, and recording works. Dance hybrids include In the Upper Room (1986), choreographed by Twyla Tharp, and A Descent into the Maelstrom (1986). Theater hybrids include The Photographer (1983), The Mysteries and What's so Funny? (1990) and 1000 Airplanes on the Roof (1988) with a libretto by David Henry Hwang and designs by Jerome Sirlin. Glass has also created a trilogy of musical theater pieces based on the films of Jean Cocteau: Orphée (1993), La Belle et La Bête (1994) and Les Enfants Terribles (1996). His hybrid recording projects include Passages (1991) with Ravi Shankar and Songs from Liquid Days (1986) with lyrics by David Byrne, Paul Simon, Laurie Anderson, and Suzanne Vega.
In 2003, Glass premiered the opera The Sound of a Voice with David Henry Hwang, created the score to Errol Morris' Academy Award winning documentary The Fog of War, and released the CD Études for Piano Vol. I, No. 1-10 on the Orange Mountain Music label. Orion premiered in 2004, a collaboration between Glass and six other international artists opening in Athens as part of the cultural celebration of the 2004 Olympics in Greece. Glass also premiered his Piano Concerto No. 2 (After Lewis and Clark) with the Omaha Symphony Orchestra. Premieres for 2005 include his Symphony No. 7 with the National Symphony Orchestra and the opera Waiting for the Barbarians, based on the book by John Coetzee.
Glass continues to regularly tour with Philip on Film, performing live with his ensemble to a series of new short films as well as classics like Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, La Belle et La Bête, and Dracula.
1976 premiere of Einstein on the Beach
1983 multiple international awards for Koyaanisqatsi
1985 wins Cannes Special Jury Prize for score to Mishima
1999 Symphony No. 5 commissioned for the millennium by the Salzburg Festival
2002 score to The Hours receives BAFTA Award and nominations for Golden Globe, Grammy and Academy Awards
2007 Writes The Book of Longing based on the poetry and images of Leonard Cohen
Einstein on the Beach
(1980; film score, performed live or recorded)
(1983; film score, performed live or recorded)
(1988; choir, orchestra)
Symphony No. 5 ‘Requiem, Bardo, Nirmanakaya’
(1999; choir, orchestra)
(2001; cello, orchestra)
Waiting for the Barbarians
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