Philip Glass

Glass is America's most famous contemporary composer.

Glass grew up in Baltimore in the 1940s and spent his childhood immersed in music. At the precocious age of 15, he was accepted to the University of Chicago; after graduating at 19, he went to Juilliard before moving to Paris on a Fulbright scholarship to study composition for another two years. Glass won his first commission in the early '60s, when he was given the task of transcribing Ravi Shankar's score for the film Chappaqua into Western musical notation. Glass then traveled through North Africa, India, and the Himalayas before landing in New York, where in 1967 he formed the Philip Glass Ensemble, a seven-person group played minimalist experimental music using classical techniques.

While most people would be hard-pressed to actually name a piece written by Glass, he's probably the only avant-garde composer whose name is even recognizable to most Americans. Glass, who's known for his extraordinarily long and intricate modern compositions typically performed by classical orchestras, has managed to stay in the limelight both by being absurdly prolific and by his willingness to experiment and adapt with the times. Over the course of his career, Glass has been responsible for over 20 operas, eight symphonies, and countless, often unusual collaborations from Leonard Cohen to Aphex Twins. He's also known in the mainstream for his work on dozens of film scores like Kundun and The Hours. [Image via Getty]