March 4th, 2009
Philip Glass
GLASS: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts
Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

In July 2005, filmmaker Scott Hicks started shooting a documentary about the composer Philip Glass to celebrate his 70th birthday in 2007. Over the next 18 months, Scott followed Philip across three continents – from his annual ride on the Coney Island “Cyclone” to the world premiere of his new opera in Germany and in performance with a didgeridoo virtuoso in Australia.

Allowed unprecedented access to Glass’ working process, family, spiritual teachers and long time collaborators, Hicks worked with a skeleton crew and shot the lion’s share of the film himself, giving us a singular revelation into the life of this surprising and complex man. THIRTEEN’s American Masters: GLASS: a portrait of Philip in twelve parts premieres nationally, Wednesday, April 8, 2009 at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). This documentary is a mosaic film portrait of one of the greatest – and at times controversial – artists of this era. The film coincides with the DVD release from KOCH LORBER Films.

“The music of Philip Glass is instantly recognizable. Its layered, repetitive notes are transcendent to some and unbearable for others. Yet, no one can dispute the influence Glass has over contemporary music,” says Susan Lacy, creator and executive producer of American Masters, a six-time winner of the Emmy Award® for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series. “This film offers a fascinating personal study of the dedicated artist doing what he does best – from making music to making pizza.”

Over the year and a half of shooting, GLASS follows the innovative composer with a casual, immediate honesty. The film features performance footage of Glass’ seminal collaboration with Robert Wilson, Einstein on the Beach, interviews with former partners JoAnne Akalaitis and Holly Critchlow, artist Chuck Close, musician Nico Muhly and directors Woody Allen, Errol Morris, Godfrey Reggio and Martin Scorsese.

Born in 1937, Glass grew up in Baltimore and was educated at the University of Chicago and The Juilliard School. After a period in Europe where he studied with the legendary Nadia Boulanger and the sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, he returned to New York in 1967 to form the Philip Glass Ensemble. The radical musical group performed at various art happenings in the downtown gallery scene, where Glass cultivated his signature sound. His unique soundscape of reiterative structures was initially vilified but has since achieved international acclaim. Today, his versatile, prolific body of work spans multiple genres including opera, symphony, experimental theater and dance, film score – for which he has received three Oscar nominations – and even rock. His collaborators have ranged from Allen Ginsberg and Twyla Tharp to David Bowie and Paul Simon to Yo-Yo Ma and Doris Lessing.

  • Kael Moffat

    Oh man! And I have tickets to see him perform the night beforehand in Lawrence, Kansas. Two nights of Philip Glass. Could it get much better?

  • Fran

    I once saw The Philip Glass Ensemble play ALL of ‘Philip on Film’ in Gainsville, Florida. For 5 days I would wake up in the morning knowing that I was going to see a Glass performance that night. I’m not bragging, really. It was heaven!

  • John Stringfellow

    I am so grateful that PBS exists. No other media outlet will cover this genius for another 200 years. I can’t wait for this series. I first heard his music back in college as a soundtrack for the movie Koyaanisqatsi. I have been a fan ever since that day when I heard his mesmerizing music.


  • Justin

    I’ve sent out the call! And popcorn already bought!

  • Mark Thomas

    I stumbled across Mr. Glass’s music by accident and have been hooked ever since. I hope people who don’t know about Mr. Glass will stumble across this film and find the joy that his music brings. Runaway Horses (in joke) couldn’t stop me from watching this film tonight.

  • carolyn

    I’m so psyched to see this series. Glass was our head dude in Seattle when I lived there. One of the premier events I witnessed was Satyagara. Oh My God.

  • diana yankes

    sweet timing! we’re going up to see Glass perform at Dartmouth College next weekend!

  • Arnaldo Flores

    I have always enjoyed Philip Glass’ music. It been an influence in my life in different subtle ways.

  • mary bullock

    Just saw the film. From the instant I first heard Ice Floes I was hooked. Glass is philosophy in sound.

  • Marjorie Peters

    Wow..just finished watching show. First exposed to Philip Glass hearing the “Photographer” on public radio station. Bought album, copied on to cassette and listened everyday while out running. Still thrills me. Amazing talent.

  • Eric Likness

    I don’t know many people of his stature who would put their family lives out there so plainly for everyone to see. Kudos for taking some big risks on letting the camera snoop around. Even on the creative side of things, I’ve watched artists be so reticent that they absolutely refused to say anything at all. I think back to Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan, Philip Glass is way more talkative than those two.

  • Will Sperling

    This was an awesome television program. I really got to know more about Philip Glass watching this telecast. Two hours went by so fast, I recorded it and will watch it again and see what I may have missed the 1st time.

  • Marion Costa

    Extraordinary musical artist and genius. Loved seeing the sets from “BARBERIAN” at the Met in Lincoln Center — the sets and music had to be “ONE” as KUNDUN the movie and Glass music were said to be one and the same by the Director/Producer on the soundtrak. An unexpected glimpse into the life of a musical genius. I love Chuck Close’s painting and found it fascinating they had been good friends. There is something about his music that makes it wonderfully original. I especially love Glassworks which introduced me to Philip Glass back in the 1980s at a Rutgers drawing class.

  • lars

    saw koyaanisqaatsi live at the fox theater in atlanta. it was an amazing experience, a live orchestra playing along with the movie.

  • Moe

    Aside from the music……..the man has 2 tiny, tiny children at 70+ years old (has other adult children and grand kids) and he’s now separated from their mother. I don’t care who he is and how Buddhist he wants to tell people he is, those kids barely have a father while he’s alive and won’t have one for much longer. Why would anyone have kids at that age except for their own monstrous ego? Yuck. Poor kids.

  • Becky

    What a fantastic keepsake as we walk down the road to nowhere, for those who will someday continue the road to nowhere. A real treasure! Thanks

  • Timo Navsky

    Wow, this was an amazing and inspiring piece… I am on my way to deliver a presentation this morning… Phillip Glass and the excellent production by PBS has inspired me to my deepest core… I’m going to tell my truth and encourage others to do the same…

  • karen kirsch

    The documentary was wonderful. For those who did not fully understand the structure of his music, this film brings it all into focus. Outstanding!

  • Gretcen Clark

    An artful rendition, really a work of art in itself, this documentary inspires and teaches on many levels. Bravo!

  • Tom Porch

    What a great show about the creativity. Can I buy this as a video/cd? I want to donate it to my son-in-laws’s music class.

  • Warren Churgin

    Excellent documentary…at first I was startled at the intimate access granted to the film maker, but then as they got into his body of work, I was captivated. I did not know much about Mr. Glass until I was exposed to Koyaanisquatsi when it was first released. I made my young kids listen to that on car rides. How they did protest. I wonder if twenty years later they can appreciate the artistry.
    Can’t wait to learn more about Mr. Glass.

  • sebastian

    The show about the musician conductor composer Philip Glass was like Blondie, I had a heart for Philip Glass. The show was interesting, but too long. Not enough music played. Too People Magazine at times with personal stories. Stained glass philip Glass philosophy, too confused and confucious. Too Brookly Mr. Glass, not enough Woolsey Hall’s Joe Duffy or Wesleyan’s Neely Bruce or Trinity College tour and you are right next door. The Barbarians? Not the Librarians? A pointless dream? Too Freudian or not enough Freud spoils the broth?

  • Barbara Spies

    I have enjoyed Philip Glass’s music for over 25 years and have seen him perform. This program was such a gift. It brought the human element which now will only enrich my enjoyment of the work by this brilliant composer. Thankyou.

  • Molly C. Loar

    {the following is copied-over from my LiveJournal post/review}

    I was lucky enough to catch this documentary special on TV Wednesday night, from only prolly seconds into the beginning of it … and sat with rapt attention throughout the entire thing. I didn’t know anything about Philip Glass – although I was familiar with one of his close friends, artist Chuck Close, who is featured within the movie – and I found it to be really really interesting. His music is my kind of stuff, apparently; I’m going to look into finding if his music is available on CD or something; it’s sincerely sparked my interest.

    Very quote-worthy; very intelligent; very well-constructed documentary-movie. Left me feeling very good & content & contemplative & inspired to go write and sing and be creatively productive. I did actually go sing some spontaneous harmonic stuff throughout my apartment… which ended up giving me narrative ideas for character scenes & dialogue for one of my in-process novels :)

    Very highly recommended for anyone with an open mind and interest in music, art, and perspectives on the world. :)
    Would be worth buying on DVD, too, if available.

    Very cool :)

  • Raena Honan

    Having found the music interesting for decades, seeing the homey side of PG complete with entourage was second only to watching sausage made.

  • Jim

    I can’t seem to find this show on the PBS channels in north Jersey. Any hints?

  • dvd404

    Check out for more info about this film and links to DVD & CD Soundtrack availability.

  • robert quinn

    he has been one of the most influential composers for all instrumental work of Weapons of Love. I probably would be doing something else if not for Mr. Glass

  • Ross

    I first became aware of Mr. Glass’s music in the film score for the “THIN BLUE LINE”. That score accomplished something new and compelling by its added dimension of communicating the tension within movie’s documentary message, a message about the capacity for the criminal justice system to visit treachery upon innoncense and on the Consitution’s presumption of it. After seeing “Monsters of Grace” at Wolftrap and Koyaanisqatsi at home on DVD, I purchased tickets for the premier of his 7th Symphony composed in honor of Leonard Slatkin’s 60th birthday. That morning, Phillip Glass gave a lenghty interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition. Mr. Glass spoke about having to drive an NYC taxi to support himself as an artist, and remarkably for me he explained his search to understand music was partly driven by the philosophical queries, “Where does music come from?” and “What is music?”
    In an amazing moment of recognition, I realized my date and I had been one of his passengers in early 1968. In a ride from 2nd Ave. to Lincoln Center. After learning we had tickets to an opera at the Met, the taxi driver asked about music schools, “Had either of us heard of Peabody, Curtis and Julliard,’ pretending to not know where these institutions are located. Then amazingly, using a device on the seat next him, he played recorded music and asked us if we recognized it or its composer and what we thought of it. One item sounded like a stuck record. After I indicated that, he said something was wrong, and played something else. He also asked us to give our interpretation of the meaning of abstract statements, first indicating he didn’t understand the statements. I have forgotten the statements, but my answer was that the statement was an environmental one, that the statement was about the impact of industrialization on the planet. I was in my element and was actually enjoying myself. My date had a different interpretation and Mr. Glass insisted on hearing her view.
    Finally after what should have been a 10 minute ride, we arrived 25 minutes later, and late for the performance. As I got out my wallet to pay, he looked at me squarely with a full head of hair framing a sensitive face, and stated, the question I have is this, and I heard this NYC taxi driver state the question, word for word that I would hear 40 years later by Philip Glass on NPR: “Where does music come from?”
    I was astonished. I find music in machinery, including autos and lawnmowers, so I had my own version of that vexing philosophical question: ‘What is music, why is there noise, and what distinguishes them?” This was clearly no ordinary taxi ride and something told me as we strode past the fountain that this unusual character was someone very special. My memory is also that he refused to accept the fair money from me.

  • Shannon Murphy

    Just watching Philip Glass on Public Television. Does anyone know the solo piano piece he was playing in concert during the program. It was so beautiful! The piece was played in the documentary just prior to moving to the more spiritual segments of the program.
    Thank you.

  • Ebony Brown

    Simply magnificent! From his spirituality/way of life to his artistry and musicianship, Phillip glass is truly an American Master. Thank you PBS! (

  • Bruce A. Vapnitsky

    Maestro Glass thank you sir for allowing us to see the truth in the creative process. I appreciate you having the courage to allow the cameras to shadow you and your family in the most private moments which intersect with your work life balance dynamic. There have been some who also had the courage to invite the public into their death process. However you have invited us into the life process and this to me has given me my air to breath. A beautiful freedom. You have given voice to music. Thank you for your work ethic and love of creation! Bruce Vapnitsky

  • Licia K Clark

    Thank you for exhibiting the complexity and simplicity of humanity through the documentation of a moment with Phillip Glass.
    I feel like inviting him to dinner.

  • mili rosenblatt

    I’m so happy I surfed into this magnificent journey through the life of Philip Glass. No matter your approval or disapproval he is a brilliant man who must follow his desire to make music in many ways. I found this doc to be absolutely brilliant and beautiful. Scott Hicks too is a great artist in his medium. Every frame intrigued me and did justice to Mr. Glass.

  • Linda Andrews

    This film is simply captivating for the view it offers of the day-to-day living of one particular creative life.

    I ordered the DVD of this film the instant it was released; the out-takes are priceless, and the commentary of Scott Hicks, the director, adds immensely to one’s experience of the film.

    Thank you, PBS.

  • Sharon Davis Gratto

    I had an opportunity to work with Philip Glass when I sang one summer over 20 years ago with the Saratoga-Potsdam Chorus and the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Festival in New York. We performed excerpts from Akhnaten and Civil Wars with Denis Russell Davies conducting. This wonderful documentary brought memories from that summer flooding back to me, especially memories of Glass’ warmth, friendliness, and relaxed manner as he explained to the chorus these very interesting and challenging compositions and how to perform them. I am going to buy this DVD for my music students to be sure they know just who this American musical genius is. Thank you for two riveting hours of television.

  • Kael Moffat

    Documentary was wonderful! I appreciate seeing him in a richer, more humane light. The pizza cooking sequence and the shots of him on the beach with his family were very touching.

    I first heard Glass on a Columbia Records sampler that had a track from “Einstein on a Beach.” Second exposure was Thin Blue Line. Then I went out and bought Glassworks and The Photographer within a week of eachother…which was a big deal on a college student’s meager earnings (no mommy and daddy scholarship).

  • State Farm Seattle

    When I watched this show I have to admit I was most facinated by the woman who were attracted to him. Kind of strange but get me glued to the TV.

  • Jake St.

    I have watched this episode of American Masters. It truely changed the way i think about music. It was the greatest documentery i have ever seen.I truely want to thank Philip Glass for letting them broadcast this. Thank you

  • Jake

    I wanted to thank pbs and philip glass for his cooporation for being such a great composer. he has changed music for all man kind as we know it. i was an honour being able ot watch this program. thank you

  • Natalie

    Is PBS great, or what?!

  • Andy Fernandez

    This documentary left such a deep impression on me that it inspired me to return to music composition after 40 years of inactivity. Every time I run into a writer’s block I watch the documentary and get reenergized. I’m am inspired by the simplicity of his life and the complex beauty of his works. Thank you Mr. Glass, Mr. Hicks, PBS and my Rochester WXXI station.

  • Meredith Gowell

    Fortunate enough 01.30.12 to see a repeat of this extensive meeting. Do you have any further
    schedules of repeating “Twelve Parts” in 2012? Please advise. Thank you.

  • Anna Collins


  • Joanna St. John

    I love PBS and I love this series. However, I must say that Mr. Glas comes across as a real, well, baby. He seems like he relies on his wife to do all the grown up stuff around the house while he goes off on his visionl quests and follows his inner yearnings without any concern for taking his family with him or including them in anything he does. I was so disappointed in his character, since he makes such beautiful music. He seems closer to his spiritual guides, who also come across as a bit self-centered and childish. I love his music so I guess that’s what’s most important. Sigh.

  • Sydney Palmer

    I first was introduced to the music of Philip Glass when I was a piano performance major at the University of Washington in 1956-57. Some of it intrigued me, especially when paired with drama or ballet or mime—–but, I am sorry to say—now, at the age of 74—-and I think I understand his music now much more than I did as a teenager—-I still do not want his music to be ringing in my ears when I shuffle off this mortal coil—–sorry—-I like a lot of it—-superficially—-not emotionally—-and the PBS program was very interesting——but give me the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th every time—-among many others. I think Mr. Glass and a lot of his cohorts—-including people I grew up with and went to school with—-not in NY—but all the same type—–are only superficially talented people—-they lack staying power emotionally—-they do not reach people at their deepest needs. Brilliant—but shallow. I doubt that, like Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Chopin—-etc. etc. etc.—-his music will be sought after over 300 years from now. I could be wrong, of course—but then ===I wouldn’t want to live in that society anyway.

  • Joe G. Holland, Sr.

    Phillip Glass is most likely a genius. However, the absence of connectivity to his former wife, Holly, and his children are not signs of creativity but evidence of his “other” existence that he fights so hard not to claim. His music comes close to capturing my harmonics, but, unfortunately, has too many vibratory holes that slip past my sincere initial interest.

    When I hear “great music,” I want more. When I hear much of Phillip Glass’ music, although unique and intersting, I feel full and have had enough. Phillip had been given the gifts of life but was “too smart” to write them into his play. For a man in his mid-seventies, he should have heard the finer notes of this journey being played in front of him.

    But who am I? Probably another genius who was blinded by his own light.

Inside This Episode


Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2015 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.