Philip Glass

Andy Kahan

Philip Glass is one of the most influential composers of the last 50 years. He’s not the only composer to use slowly changing repetition as a formal device, but his prolific output and the legacy of decades of performances by the Philip Glass Ensemble, have made his sound-world recognizable to millions.

He’s composed numbers well into the double digits of symphonies, operas, and film soundtracks, along with string quartets, concertos, ballets, songs, and so much more. His autobiography Words without Music recounts what Ornette Coleman told him: there was a difference between the music world and the music business. It's a lesson he never forgot.

He worked in his father’s Baltimore record store, and was a furniture mover, cab driver, and plumber. He studied at Juilliard and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, then formed his ensemble and began touring. Operas, beginning with Einstein on the Beach, made him so famous that Peter Schickele poked fun with a P.D.Q. Bach opera, Einstein on the Fritz. Philip Glass loved it.

He's worked with Ravi Shankar, Martin Scorsese, Samuel Beckett, and David Bowie, and broke down the wall between uptown classical and downtown vernacular. The sound of contemporary music is due, in no small part, to Philip Glass.

When composer Philip Glass started performing his own music, a lot of people didn't know what to make of it. Some people thought it sounded like the needle of a record was stuck in a groove, repeating over and over again. Some people thought it was simplistic. Some thought it was a joke. Glass says that in the '70s, audience members threw things at him while he was performing.

Ice Canyons

Jan 30, 2015

It's ice and echoes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 31st at 9 pm Eastern on the all-classical stream at and WRTI-HD2. Figure-skating and Stravinsky inspire Joan Tower's gliding Petroushskates, and Allen Ginsberg narrates his own poem in Echorus by Philip Glass, for two violins and strings. From the CD Winter is Eric Ewazen's Elegia, for trumpet and piano.

The Tibetan Heart Mantra is at the center of Echoes by Paul Fowler, for the women of The Crossing, and Peru echoes in the harpsichord work by Kent Holliday, Dances from Colca Canyon. Barton McLean runs environmentalist John Muir's descriptions of glaciers through his own software to construct Ice Canyons. The echoes of minimalism by way of Steve Reich close out the program, in this recording of New York Counterpoint arranged by saxophonist Dave Camwell for his CD Time Scape.

Different quartets evoke different textures on Now Is the Time, Saturday, November 22nd at 9 pm at and WRTI-HD2. Geology dominates Paul Lansky's Textures. It's for two pianists and two percussionists, and movement titles use words like striations, substrates, granite, and round-wound (makes me think of bass guitar strings). Hammering keyboards and lyrical mallets comprise this unusual foursome.

Philip Glass composed a string quartet, his fourth, in memory of the artist Brian Buczak, who died in 1987, and was a friend. The lilting, pulsing music carries a smooth sadness as its predominant Glassian texture; the great quartet Kronos brings this to us to close the program.

Secondary Impressions

Aug 8, 2014

They come in twos on Now Is the Time, Saturday, August 9th at 9 pm at and WRTI-HD2. Joan Tower responded to Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man with numerous Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman; we'll hear No. 2. Eric McIntyre doubles down on impressionism with Secondary Impressions for saxophone and piano, and Kronos performs the Quartet No. 2 of Philip Glass.

William Hawley's Two Motets on Roman poets, sung by Volti, separates the last two instrumental works, the Four Fanfares for Two Trumpets by Andrew Rindfleisch and John Novacek's Three Rags for Two Pianos.

A Flash Choir Sings Philip Glass in Times Square

Jul 10, 2012

Watch a "flash choir" descend upon Times Square to sing a world premiere of music by Philip Glass, commissioned by NPR Music in honor of the composer's 75th birthday. Watch and listen here.

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