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Born in Baltimore, Maryland on January 31, 1937, Philip Glass discovered music through the records his father’s radio repair shop carried, in addition to servicing radios. Glass rapidly became familiar with Beethoven quartets, Schubert sonatas, Shostakovitch symphonies and other music then considered “offbeat.’’ It was not until he was in his late teens that Glass encountered more ‘”standard’’ classics.
Glass’ formal training began at age six with music lessons. At age eight, he took up the flute but by fifteen, the instrument’s limited range, as well as with what post-war Baltimore had to offer in terms of musical life, frustrated him. During his second year in high school, the University of Chicago accepted his application for admission. Glass moved to Chicago, supporting himself with part-time jobs waiting tables and loading airplanes at airports. He majored in mathematics and philosophy, and during off-hours practiced piano, concentrating on composers such as Ives and Webern.
At nineteen, 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 Copeland and William Schuman. Glass studied with Vincent Persichetti, Darius Milhaud and William Bergsma. Rejecting serialism, Glass gravitated to such maverick composers as Harry Partch, Charles Ives, Moondog, Henry Cowell and Virgil Thomson. In1960, 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 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 Twelve 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. Glass then decided to make Einstein part of a trilogy, resulting in the creation of the operas Satyagraha (1982) and Akhenaton (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 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.
Glass film scores include Godfrey Reggio’s trilogy Koyaanisqatsi (1983), Powaqqatsi (1987) and Naqoyqatsi (2002); Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line (1988), A Brief History of Time (1992) and The Fog of War (2003); Paul Shrader’s Mishima (1985); Bernard Rose’s Candyman (1992) and Bill Condon’s Candyman II (1996); and an original score, performed by Kronos Quartet for the re-release of the 1930 Dracula (2000) starring Bela Lagosi. Critically acclaimed film scores include Martin Scorsese’s Kundun (1997)– which won Glass the L. A. Critics Award, as well as the Academy and Golden Globe nominations for Best Original Score and original music for Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (1998), which won a Golden Globe Award for Best Score in 1999. Glass’ work for Stephen Daldry’s The Hours (2002) received Golden Globe, Grammy, and Academy Award nominations, along with winning the Anthony Asquith Award for Achievement in Film Music from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He also scored the thrillers Taking Lives and Secret Window in 2004.
Beyond the genres of opera, orchestra, and film scores, Glass also has a number of 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), 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. Premieres for 2004 included the new work Orion, 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, based on Lewis and Clark, with the Omaha Symphony Orchestra. Premieres in 2005 were 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.