Classic FM Heroes- Philip Glass

Since her early introduction to Philip Glass’s music, Classic FM’s Jane Jones has continued to be thrilled by this composer’s unique and powerful work.

Initially, his music came with a health warning – it was described by an early critic as “sonic torture”! But when I first heard the music of Philip Glass, I was thrilled and mesmerised, and that’s how it has stayed.

Admittedly, Glass had moved on from the highly experimental works of his early career by the time I saw the now-legendary film by Godfrey Reggio, Koyaanisqatsi.

The accompanying score by Glass created an eloquent and emotional counterpoint to the onscreen images that left me stunned. In the 20 years that followed, Glass composed two further soundtracks to complete the films that now make up the “Qatsi” trilogy – both as powerful and haunting as the first.

Trouncing stereotypical preconceptions on the strength of one movie turned Glass into one of my musical heroes, and he’s continued to astound me ever since. 

I love the stories you hear about him, especially the one about how his early musical influences were rejects and left-overs; Glass’s father was a radio repair man who sold records on the side, and the music that the young Glass was exposed to was the stock that no-one wanted.

Another favourite story relates how, when his big break came in 1975, he was doing odd jobs, such as plumbing or taxi driving, to earn some extra money. As the press went wild over his first opera, Einstein On The Beach, Glass was behind the wheel of a cab, picking up a fare!

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, his influence and energy knew no bounds. From sitar guru Ravi Shankar to New York “performance artist” Laurie Anderson, his list of collaborators reads like a “Who’s Who of Cool”.

His rhythmic musical structures and trademark minimalism have influenced rock musicians such as David Bowie – although Glass has rejected the minimalist tag.

“Tell them it’s repetitive,” he says, “and that’s all they’ll hear.”

Add theatre, opera and cinema to his symphonic and chamber music and his inventiveness knows no bounds.

Glass belongs to the list of people who have shaped our cultural lives. When I met him last year, after a concert at the Wales Millennium Centre at which his Philip Glass Ensemble played the soundtrack to the “Qatsi” film trilogy, I was introduced to a quietly spoken, understated man. Dressed all in black and smaller than I’d imagined he would be, Glass was engaging and less intense than I’d expected – he was actually a touch droll.

Glass’s rigorous intellect and phenomenal musical language have earned him success and recognition in every area of artistic and cultural achievement. Those who reject him as “too modern” are just as likely to love the hit TV show Six Feet Under or the award-winning film The Truman Show.

But who won the prize for the latter’s soundtrack? You’re right - my hero, Philip Glass.

My hero because:

  • His music constantly astounds and thrills
  • He crosses musical boundaries with ease, influencing classical and rock musicians alike
  • He continues to exceed expectation
  • His music has been instrumental in shaping cultural lives today

Philip Glass: The Essential Collection

Violin Concerto
Adele Anthony (violin), Ulster Orchestra/Yuasa
Naxos 8.554568

The Hours (soundtrack)
Michael Riesman (piano), Lyric Quartet
Nonesuch 7559 79693-2

String Quartets Nos 2-5
Kronos Quartet
Nonesuch 7559 79356-2