After Philip Glass had his first
major symphonic piece performed by an orchestra in Europe, he was still a cabbie in New York City-- a job he continued
during his early career. One evening a passenger noticed his name on the displayed license and said "Young man, you have the
name of a very famous composer."
Glass says "It was a great job for an artist.
You could work any day you wanted. There were a lot of painters, writers, and musicians driving cab." He wrote "Einstein on
the Beach" while driving cab.
He was self-supporting from the age of 15, when
he moved from the family home to attend the University of Chicago, taking a double major in mathematics and philosophy, and
graduating at age 19.
During these years he waited tables and
loaded planes at the airport. Upon graduation he studied in Paris, where he was hired by a film maker to transcribe the Indian
music of Ravi Shanker into notation readable to western musicians.
Glass was born in 1937 in Baltimore to music-loving
parents. His father, Ben Glass, had a radio repair shop where he also sold recordings of classical concerts. In the evenings
he would play the recordings for his three children.
As a toddler, Glass's parents encouraged his
intuitive imagination at the piano. When he was 8 he took lessons at the Peabody Conservatory, where he learned the flute,
and began composing when he was 15. He was determined to be a composer and he got his wish. He's been at it (prolifically)
for 50 years.
Early on he stretched himself from the American
and European traditions and adopted a global approach to music. He was inspired by the music of Asia, North Africa, India,
Tibet, Brazil, and beyond, Increasingly, he collaborated with musicians the world over.
Lately, since he and his wife are raising two
small children, he has limited his travels mainly to Mexico. He loves the Mexican culture for its acknowledgement of the power
of natural forces.
Recently he became enthralled with the music
of the Toltec indians who live in the central mountains-- hence "The Toltec Symphony."
He writes for opera, dance, theater, chamber
music, orchestra, and film. Since 2002 he has written an opera (Galileo Galilei), a symphony, two movie scores, and several
commercials (you'll hear his music on the American Express commercial featuring Robert DeNiro and New York City).
In addition to his symphonies, Glass has
written books and more than 75 film scores-- winning Oscars for "Kundum" (1997) and "The Hours" (2002).
A recent interview, conducted by Robert McNeil
for PBS, took place during a rehearsal for "The Toltec Symphony" at Lincoln Center. The composer talked about the first time
he hears his music performed.
He said, "Until that moment I have a conceptual
idea of the piece without the benefit of live instruments. The moment they begin playing it's different. Then the strangest
thing happens. I can no longer remember the conception. It's been replaced by the real sound.
Whatever I thought I would hear has been replaced
by what I'm actually hearing. The piece talkes on a life of it's own. Hearing music in the air has an authenticity that it
doesn't have in the conception."
When Glass composes he simultaneously
visualizes and "audiolizes" the music. When the piece is completed as a 'pencil score' he hands it to a copyist, then hands
the finished manuscript to a conductor. Then the musicians take over, and, as Glass says, "then the strangest thing happens..."