Philip Glass on Shattering His Idea of an Artist’s Life

Philip Glass. Raymond Meier

I was never one to party. I wasn’t a saint, either, but when I was young, I had the idea that I would never get married and never have children. I don’t know where I got the idea, but I thought an artist had to be committed to his work and live a solitary, monastic life. It didn’t turn out that way.

Life deals us a different hand than we think we’re going to get, so I’ve had a couple of marriages and four children, and the finest moments of my life have been with these children. I wasn’t at all prepared for it and I had a lot of catching up to do. My first two children, Juliet and Zachary, I had with my first wife in my 30s, and my second pair of children, Cameron and Marlowe, I had later in life, in my 60s. With my first two children I was working very hard to make a career for myself—writing Einstein on the Beach and Music in Twelve Parts, my first classical pieces—and looking back on it, I should have spent more time raising them. That was my greatest mistake. But I got a second chance.

My first wife, JoAnne Akalaitis, was a very well-known director in the theater world, and we were both living in Paris in the 1960s. I had a Fulbright scholarship. We found out you could get married for five pounds in Gibraltar, and we did! We had two children shortly after.

With Einstein on the Beach, I spent a lot of time on the road. And JoAnne was on the road as well, with the Mabou Mines theater company. She took the children for six weeks, and we ended up at the Belgrade International Theatre Festival, and then I took them for the next six weeks. But when you do a lot of touring, things like that happen. I learned to not make my tours so long.

When I was driving a cab, in the evening I would stop, pick up my children, and give them a ride around the neighborhood because I thought it was a fun thing to do. I found out years later from my daughter that the kids were terrified because they thought I’d stolen the cab! I thought I was giving them a treat.

With the second pair of children I had, I made plenty of time for them. When I’m writing in my music room and they come barging into the room the way kids do, I put the pencil down and ask them what they’d like to do. I walk them to school. We make music together, read together, go to the park. I understand now how quickly children grow up, and I’ve written so much music in my life, it doesn’t matter. What I know now is the time that we have to be with the people closest to us is never enough.

CAREER ARC 1968: Focuses on his minimalist music with the Philip Glass Ensemble. 1976: Achieves worldwide recognition for the opera Einstein on the Beach. 1996: Reissues his famed Music in Twelve Parts, written in the ‘70s. 2002: Receives Oscar nomination for scoring The Hours soundtrack. 2012: Celebrates his 75th birthday and debuts Symphony No. 9 at Carnegie Hall.

Interview by Marlow Stern