Born in Chicago in 1937 and raised in Baltimore, Philip Glass' musical influences began at a young age during hours spent at his family's record store where he was exposed to an eclectic music collection including Western classical music and modern music of the time. His musical studies began at age six with the violin, continued at age eight with the flute through an accelerated program at the Peabody Conservatory, and by age 12 he began composing music.
In 1952 he entered the University of Chicago as a piano student of Marcus Rasking, who introduced him to the 12-tone music technique; he earned his BA in liberal arts at the age of 19. In 1956, he enrolled at the Juilliard School of Music as a composition student, but went back to Baltimore to work as a crane operator in the Bethlehem Steel Company to earn money to return to Juilliard. Return he did -- receiving his BA in composition within two years (1959) and his MA in composition within four years (1961) under the tutelage of William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti. Glass moved to Pittsburgh for two years on a Ford Foundation grant to write music for a variety of ensembles selected from the city's schools. He was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study harmony and counterpoint in Paris with the legendary pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. There he also worked closely with the sitar virtuoso and composer Ravi Shankar. He returned to New York in 1967 and worked at various jobs to support himself as a composer, including as a plumber and taxi driver at night. In 1971 he formed the Philip Glass Ensemble -- consisting of amplified woodwinds, keyboard synthesizers, and solo voice -- which served as a performance outlet for his music. Visionary and savvy in many ways, he would become one of the first composers to start his own record label.
Throughout the 1960s his music focused on the rhythmic processes, exploring small amounts of musical material used with extensive repetition. The new musical style that Glass was evolving was eventually dubbed "minimalism." Yet, there has been nothing minimalist about his musical output. Glass himself avoided the term and preferred to speak of himself as a composer of "music with repetitive structures." Beginning in the mid-1970s Glass' music became increasingly engaged with harmony, melody, and chordal structure and through this exploration it gained in range of expression.
During the past 25 years, he has composed 24 operas, large and small; eight symphonies; two piano concertos; concertos for violin, piano, timpani, and saxophone quartet and orchestra; string quartets; a growing body of works for solo piano and organ; and soundtracks to films ranging from new scores for the stylized classics of Jean Cocteau to a documentary by Errol Morris, from the groundbreaking soundtrack to Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi to Stephen Daldry's The Hours (for which he won a BAFTA Award). His collaborators have ranged from pop artists such as Paul Simon and Linda Ronstadt to writers Allen Ginsberg and Doris Lessing, among many others.
Many of his operas have been produced by the world's leading opera houses. Einstein on the Beach (1976) was the first work he wrote for the stage. He premiered Satyagraha in 1980 and Akhnaten in 1983, both to critical acclaim. The 1990s saw nearly 10 opera premieres by the prolific composer, including Hydrogen Jukebox, Orfée, and Les Enfants Terribles. In 2005, Waiting for the Barbarians premiered, based on the book by J.M. Coetzee, and in 2007 Appomattox premiered, a story about the end of the United States Civil War. His most recent opera, Kepler, about the work of the eponymous 17th-century scientist and mathematician, premiered in Austria in 2009. He presents lectures, workshops, and solo keyboard performances around the world, and continues to appear regularly with the Philip Glass Ensemble. Indeed, he is the first composer to win a wide, multigenerational audience in the opera house, the concert hall, the dance world, in film, and in popular music.
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