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Philip Glass Biography

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Philip Glass In-depth Biography

Philip Glass} was unquestionably among the most innovative and influential composers of the 20th century. Postmodern music's most celebrated and high-profile proponent, his myriad orchestral} works, operas}, film scores}, and dance pieces proved essential to the development of ambient} and new age} sounds, and his fusions of Western and world} musics were among the earliest and most successful global experiments of their kind.

Born in Baltimore, MD, on January 31, 1937, Glass} took up the flute at the age of eight; at just 15, he was accepted to the University of Chicago, ostensibly majoring in philosophy but spending most of his waking hours on the piano. After graduation he spent four years at Juilliard, followed in 1963 by a two-year period in Paris under the tutelage of the legendary Nadia Boulanger}. Glass}' admitted artistic breakthrough came while working with Ravi Shankar} on transcribing Indian music; the experience inspired him to begin structuring music by rhythmic phrases instead of by notation, forcing him to reject the 12-tone idiom of purist classical} composition as well as traditional elements including harmony, melody, and tempo.

Glass}' growing fascination with non-Western musics inspired him to hitchhike across North Africa and India, finally returning to New York in 1967. There he began to develop his distinctively minimalist} compositional style, his music consisting of hypnotically repetitious circular rhythms. While Glass} quickly staked out territory in the blooming downtown art community, his work met with great resistance from the classical} establishment, and to survive he was forced to work as a plumber and, later, as a cab driver. In the early '70s, he formed the Philip Glass Ensemble}, a seven-piece group composed of woodwinds, a variety of keyboards, and amplified voices; their music found its initial home in art galleries but later moved into underground rock} clubs, including the famed Max's Kansas City}. After receiving initial refusals to publish his music, Glass} formed his own imprint, Chatham Square Productions}, in 1971; a year later, he self-released his first recording, Music With Changing Parts}. Subsequent efforts like 1973's Music in Similar Motion/Music in Fifths} earned significant fame overseas, and in 1974 he signed to Virgin U.K.}

Glass} rose to international fame with his 1976 "portrait opera}" Einstein on the Beach}, a collaboration with scenarist Robert Wilson}. An early masterpiece close to five hours in length, it toured Europe and was performed at the Metropolitan Opera House}; while it marked Glass'} return to classical} Western harmonic elements, its dramatic rhythmic and melodic shifts remained the work's most startling feature. At much the same time, he was attracting significant attention from mainstream audiences as a result of the album North Star}, a collection of shorter pieces that he performed in rock} venues and even at Carnegie Hall}. In the years to follow, Glass} focused primarily on theatrical projects, and in 1980 he presented Satyagraha}, an operatic portrayal of the life of {%Gandhi} complete with a Sanskrit libretto inspired by the Bhagavad Gita}. Similar in theme and scope was 1984's Akhnaten}, which examined the myth of the Egyptian pharaoh. In 1983, Glass} made the first of many forays into film composition with the score to the Godfrey Reggio} cult hit Koyaanisqatsi}; a sequel, Powaqqatsi}, followed five years later.

While remaining best known for his theatrical productions, Glass} also enjoyed a successful career as a recording artist. In 1981, he signed an exclusive composer's contract with the CBS Masterworks} label, the first such contract offered to an artist since Aaron Copland}; a year later, he issued Glassworks}, a highly successful instrumental collection of orchestral} and ensemble performances. In 1983, he released The Photographer}, including a track with lyrics by David Byrne}; that same year, Glass} teamed with former Doors} keyboardist Ray Manzarek} for Carmina Burana}. Released in 1986, Songs from Liquid Days} featured lyrics from luminaries including Paul Simon}, Laurie Anderson}, and Suzanne Vega}, and became Glass}' best-selling effort to date.

By this time he was far and away the avant-garde}'s best-known composer, thanks also to his music for the 1984 Olympic Games and works like The Juniper Tree}, an opera} based on a fairy tale by {%the Brothers Grimm}. In 1992, Glass} was even commissioned to write The Voyage} for the Met} in honor of the 500th anniversary of {%Christopher Columbus}' arrival in the Americas -- clear confirmation of his acceptance by the classical} establishment. In 1997, he scored the Martin Scorsese} masterpiece Kundun}; Dracula}, a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet}, followed two years later. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide

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