Philip Glass: A Gandhi for the Modern World

Satyagraha composer Philip Glass. (Chad Buchanan/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, April 23, 2008 - The legacy of Mohandas K. Gandhi and his Satyagraha movement, which espoused nonviolence in the cause of social change, took center stage at Asia Society headquarters, as composer Philip Glass was joined by Asia Society President Vishakha Desai for a conversation moderated by R. Gustav Niebuhr, associate professor of religion and the media at Syracuse University.

Glass's 1980 opera Satyagraha had just opened a sold-out run at New York's Metropolitan Opera, and provided the occasion for the Asia Society talk. Glass discussed the opera's genesis and the powerful effect Gandhi's ideas had on him as a young man in the 1960s, remarking in the context of the civil rights movement that "It was clear to me the legacy of Gandhi was in America."   

Tracing a family connection to the Mahatma's life and work, Desai described how her father had participated in Gandhi's famous Salt March in 1930. Taking the story ahead several generations, she expressed concern that Gandhian principles are considered less and less relevant by a majority of Indians today.

Moving onto the Met's revival of Satyagraha, Glass mentioned how gratifying it was to see the work visibly connecting with a younger and, for opera, unusually diverse audience. (He also remarked that the Met orchestra is "the best... in New York City, hands down.") In conclusion, he spoke of his optimism—about both the possibility of Gandhi's example being taken up by a new generation, and Satyagraha's someday being produced in India.

A Soul of Asia Program, made possible by Ruth and Harold Newman.  

Listen to the complete program (56 min.)