It’s been nearly 60 years since the celebrated experimental composer Philip Glass left his home in Baltimore at age 15 to attend the University of Chicago. “That experience has empowered me my whole life,” he says. This month, in the wake of his 75th birthday, Glass returns to play a sold-out concert of his own solo piano works April 1 at the Art Institute. We picked his brain for memories of his formative years here—and for word on what he’s thinking about right now.
IN THE PAST YEAR, I TRAVELED TO: Los Angeles; Middelburg, Netherlands; Amsterdam, Zurich; Hong Kong; Revello, Italy; Alcobendas, Spain; and Rio De Janeiro (New York is his home base).
BOOK I’M CARRYING ON THE PLANE: “Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time, by Nicolas Slonimsky. It’s a collection of bad reviews of Brahms, Schubert, and Beethoven from the 18th and 19th centuries. They’re hilariously funny to read because people hated these guys. People couldn’t believe that Brahms could get away with writing junk and make a career out of it. You hear the same thing about modern composers. It’s very nice to be able to read that.”
GO-TO MEAL: “Mush and beans! I’m a vegetarian, so it’s a very basic dish that you can find anywhere. I’ve learned to become very adaptable. I don’t cultivate obscure tastes that I won’t be able to satisfy.”
THREE AMAZING PERFORMANCES I SAW IN CHICAGO: Billie Holiday and Ben Webster at the Cotton Club, Lee Konitz at the Modern Jazz Room, and Fritz Reiner conducting Bartók with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—“back when you could get a ticket for 50 cents.”
THINGS I LEARNED TO DO AT THE U. OF C.: “Smoke and drink coffee. That might seem very mild right now, but when you’re 15 and it’s 1952, it makes you very rebellious.”
Photography: (Glass) Raymond Meier; (Holiday, Konitz) Album/Newscom; (Reiner) Chicago Tribune; (fork) skystorm/istockphoto