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Composer Philip Glass

The remarkable composer Philip Glass joins us. We’ll listen from “Einstein on the Beach” to his latest “Symphony No. 9.”

U.S. composer Philip Glass listens during a news conference in Mexico City, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009. Glass is scheduled to play two concerts in the city this week. (AP)

U.S. composer Philip Glass listens during a news conference in Mexico City, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009. (AP)

Composer Philip Glass drove a taxi until he was 41, and wrote music after hours that drove people wild.  Some with exasperation.  Some with pure ecstasy.  Hypnotic, churning, relentless music.  Einstein on the Beach.  Satyagraha.  The score for Koyaanisqatsi.  Symphonies.  Operas.

Work with David Bowie and Woody Allen and Allen Ginsberg.  Linda Ronstadt.  Twyla Tharp.  Now he’s 75 and celebrated all over.

This hour, On Point:  a conversation with composer Philip Glass.

-Tom Ashbrook


Philip Glass, a classical music composer, his most recent composition – Symphony No. 9 – premiered in Linz, Austria in January.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New Yorker “Philip Glass’s place in musical history is secure. His sprawling, churning, monumentally obsessive works of the nineteen-seventies—“Music with Changing Parts,” “Music in Twelve Parts,” “Einstein on the Beach,” “Satyagraha”—have fascinated several generations of listeners, demonstrating mesmeric properties that are as palpable as they are inexplicable.”

NPR “Even on a frigid Saturday in January, the street outside Glass’ East Village home crackles with traffic and pedestrians. Inside his brick townhouse, where he composes, Glass says he has created what he calls an “oasis of tranquility.””

New York Magazine “Philip Glass turns 75 on January 31, and on that night the former cabbie, plumber, iconoclast, avant-gardist, and loft pioneer will get a resounding confirmation of his elder statesmanship: the U.S. premiere of his Ninth Symphony at Carnegie Hall. I decided to celebrate ahead of time and in private, by trying to overcome years of distaste for his music. Perhaps, I thought, I had never listened hard enough to get beneath the churning surface, and impression had hardened into prejudice. A friend of mine speaks of the “ecstasy” of listening to Glass; I wanted some of that, too.

Video: Philip Glass and Occupy

After a December performance of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha at the Metropolitan Opera in New York Occupy protesters try to get operagoers to ignore the police, walk down the steps, and join the demonstration. About three minutes into the video, Glass talks to the crowd and recites the closing lines of his opera, which come from the Bhagavad-Gita: “When righteousness withers away and evil rules the land, we come into being, age after age, and take visible shape, and move, a man among men, for the protection of good, thrusting back evil and setting virtue on her seat again.”


Check out these photos from the Tune-In music festival at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, February 2012.


Symphony No. 9: Movement II
Symphony No. 9: Movement III
(1976) Einstein on the Beach – Act IV. Scene I – Building
Symphony No. 9: Movement I
The Truman Show Soundtrack “Anthem Pt.2”
Music in Fifths
Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack
Heroes Symphony
Passages –“Sadhanipa”
Songs and Poems for Solo Cello “Song V” with Wendy Sutter
LIVE Satyagraha: Act II (Tagore), Scene 3: Protest, preformed live at the Metropolitan Opera November 2011
LIVE Etude No. 2 – Philip Glass playing on Feb. 24, 2012 at Tune-in Musical Festival in NYC
Symphony No. 9: Movement III

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  • Shaman

    I feel obligated to *like* Glass.

    He is the Jackson Pollock of sound. That is not necessarily good. But I feel compelled non-the-less to try to understand because he is an original.

    • Gregg

      You know, I see what you are getting at and can’t disagree with what you say about Mr. Glass’ originality. But IMHO enjoying music should be easier than that.

      • Anonymous

        It’s amazing how much that’s stimulating and enjoyable comes from the decision to listen to — and look at and feel — experiences that are new and challenging.  A lot of what life is about is opening up one’s senses to all experience.   Too often we start by saying, “Oh, I wouldn’t enjoy that sort of thing!”  And then dismiss an experience that could turn out to be really rewarding.

        • Gregg

          I agree 100%, I hate musical snobs.

    • Oedipa Mossmoon

       God man, I’d like to be “the Jackson Pollock” of anything.

    • http://www.facebook.com/RoberteKelly Robert Kelly

      Oh no…I don’t think he is the “Pollock” of sound. John Cage would be the “Pollock” of sound…Glass does not really dabble in Chance music.

  • gemli

     I’ve been a fan of Philip Glass since I saw the film Koyaanisqatsi, and was transfixed by his score.  Image and sound were joined perfectly, and for me it created an appreciation of his music that I might not have discovered otherwise.  Underneath those minimalist figures his music can soothe, moan, and swing like nothing else.  Thanks for having him on your show.

    • Anonymous

      Ditto to this. Looking forward to the program.

  • Salzburg

    Would love to see and hear your works at the Salzburger Festspiele!!!

  • wauch

    Philip Glass’ acknowledgement of Occupy Wall Street just another reason to commend him and listen to the textures of his music. True American treasure that broke down countless barriers!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593362457 Sarah Freas

    Phillip Glass OnPoint with Tom Ashbrook. Now…wow!

  • Leswarn

    PG’s soundtract to The Hours is movie score perfection.

  • BHA in Vermont

    OK, sorry, but I have to go with annoying. At least the 1969 track that was just played. 

  • Henri Ferrote

    Einstein on the Beach was originally choreographed by Mr. Kip Watson as a Dance/Film/Video shot in central Florida (possibly Daytona Beach or New Smyrna Beach). Mr. Watson along with his sister Barbara Riggins are the founding family of Southern Ballet Theatre (currently Orlando Ballet). Mr. Watson was a great pioneer and one of the originators of Dance/Film/Video which included “Dance in America” on WBGH in Boston and his “Einstein on the Beach” will be archived in the Library of Congress and NY Public Library Dance/Film/Video Collections. Mr. Watsson recently passed away from lung cancer. His obiturary can be obtained from Mr. Bil Doolin, current director of the Florida Dance Assocation (one of the  premiere dance service organizations in the United States that produces a 2 week international dance festival in Florida annually – scheduled at the University fo South Florida in June 2010).

    I am an internationally famous dancer, opera singer, actor, musician, educator, choreographer and master teacher – former ambassador to the Russia and Soviet Union, banker and from on of the rcihest families in the United States. My family owns a castle in Ireland, owned a portion of Greene Street in Baltimore, founded Witten, VA – Fields, TX, – Port Orange and South Daytona, FL – is one of the founding familes of Daytona Beach, FL – owned a portion of Holly Hill, FL. Our grandfather, Louis C. Price invented the 1st 12 cylinder aluminum engine. Our great grandfather, Jacob Fileds, founded Fields, TX – was a cattle man, rancher and banker in Gittings, TX. On his cattle ranch was found the what is believed to be thelargest oil field in the history of TX.

    I have only barely described our family’s wealth.

    In closing, I do hope that Phillip Glass will at least learn of the great accomplishments of Mr. Watson since several of his students danced in Merce Cunnignham’s company prior to Mr. Cunningham’s death.

    Respectfully yours,

    Henri Ferrote (ferreting out the good, the bad and the ugly of Boston)

  • Nia

    In 1987, I attended a high school summer arts program in Portland, Maine and one of the field trips was to the museum to see Koyaanisqatsi. I remember there were breakout groups available for us kids to attend in case there were “issue or emotions” that the film brought up and that we wanted to share. I think this was the first time that I consciously realized the power of all art forms, in this case, music and film, to deliver important and powerful messages to us as individuals and as a society.

    So, behind my chuckles and mimicking of the Glass/Koyaanisqatsi  parody on the Simpsons, I always remember this great lesson I learned all those years ago. Thank you.

  • Stan Berea

    How is Phillip Glass treating Walt Disney as a subject? He was such a complicated man who was anti-union in his treatment of his animating staff, and almost a McCarthy-ite in his fear/hatred of socialism – right?  How does Mr Glass see his art in relation to the life & death social struggles of humanity?

  • Mk

    People may tsk at this in the bland and homogenizing public realm of today, but the first time I did LSD my friend put
    Koyaanisqatsi on as we were coming up.  Blew my mind ;)
    Still one of my absolute favourite films.

    I’ve loved Mr.Glass ever since I can remember.  Seeing one of the operas is definitely on my bucket list.  Thanks much for your contribution!!

  • CAP

     Amazing music.  My wife walked down the aisle to “Helen’s Theme” very fitting for our masquerade style wedding.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sara.monteith Sara Monteith

    Fantanstic interview…I stilll curious to know what happened with the music that he composed for the kids in Pittsburgh.

  • Marilyn Roth

    Responding to Susan’s call comments on the Pittsburgh days
    and to Sara’s inquiry about the music — indeed Philip Glass was such an
    influence on everyone from listeners to those who worked directly with
    him.  My mother was an elementary
    school music teacher at the time (Sheridan Elementary) and prepared her
    students to sing his songs written for the All-City Chorus.  I was a high school student and worked
    with him for two years as pianist for my own high school chorus (Langley) as
    well as the various All-City groups, and for the two years as oboist in the
    woodwind quintet that he coached weekly. 
    The range was from big concerts in Pgh’s Carnegie Music Hall to his
    visits to the classrooms.  Looking
    back, a young guy in his mid-20’s, he was working hard!  It’s great to again hear the names
    Stanley Levin, Director of Instrumental Music, and Jacob Evanson, Director of
    Choral Music, and acknowledge their vision in making the Ford Foundation Grant
    possible — and from what I remember, extending the original grant into a second


     I have a small
    piano suite that I performed on one of the final concerts, and alas have no
    copy of a set of animal pieces for elementary school chorus that was totally
    charming, or the piece written for my Langley High chorus. . .I remember “leaves”.  Pittsburgh Public School archives,


    We knew then that something very special was happening, and
    I count Philip Glass as a major musical influence and teacher in my life. Happy
    Birthday to him!  To Susan
    — nice to know that there are two of us from those days and we’re now in


  • Dawn “Glass” Dunford

    I would really like to know if we are related.. Somewhere in the lines I think we are.. My family is from the Pennsylvania and Baltimore area.. My Grandmother was Esther Glass and my father is Joesph Glass.. I was Born in Laurel Maryland in 1980.. I know that this page is about his works,but I’m trying to get a bit of family history.. My family has spread out and I don’t really know much about it and I’m a bit curious as to whether or not we could be family..

    Thank You

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