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John Adams at 70: Spring Highlights and beyond

(February 2017)

The 70th birthday of John Adams falls on 15 February and the coming months bring celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic, together with anticipation of his new opera scheduled for premiere in San Francisco in November.

John Adams's 70th is celebrated with over 400 performances around the world during the 2016/17 season that surrounds his birthday on 15 February. From his home state of California across to Europe and beyond, leading musical centres are offering retrospectives of his output, together with first territorial performances of his recent works including Scheherazade.2, The Gospel According to the Other Mary and the Saxophone Concerto. His operas and oratorios are among the most widely programmed of any contemporary composer, with 70th birthday performances both in opera houses and in concert presentations.

In Europe

"Three decades after shocking the minimalist establishment with his allusions to European Romanticism, and on the cusp of his 70th birthday, Adams has never been more relevant on both sides of the Atlantic. This season, he becomes the first composer-in-residence with the Berlin Philharmonic since 1998... a composer who has never stopped probing the boundaries of his own artistry." So wrote the Financial Times reviewing Adams's conducting debut with the orchestra in September, launching a year of his music in the German capital.

The season-long Adams feature in Berlin totals 15 concerts, recently including his passion oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary conducted by Simon Rattle and concluding in June with City Noir conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, together with a special CD edition, video interviews to accompany webcasts on the orchestra's Digital Concert Hall and a series of educational events. Bonn Opera presents the German stage premiere of The Gospel According to the Other Mary (Mar 16–May 14) in the Peter Sellars production first seen at English National Opera, conducted by Joana Carneiro.

The Barbican’s Sounds that Changed America series in London spotlights Adams at 70 with a number of concerts: the Britten Sinfonia salutes the composer with a performance of Chamber Symphony (Feb 25), and the New York Philharmonic tours to London with a performance of Absolute Jest, The Chairman Dances, and Harmonielehre (Apr 1/2). On 25 April Adams himself will conduct a concert staging of Doctor Atomic at the Barbican with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, linked with sessions for a new recording on Nonesuch with Gerald Finley as Dr Robert J Oppenheimer.

At the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the ZaterdagMatinee series presents Nixon in China in concert, performed by the Dutch National Youth Orchestra (Feb 11). In May, Adams himself conducts the Dutch premiere of the Saxophone Concerto with soloist Timothy McAllister and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.

In France, Adams is composer-in-association with the Orchestre national de Lyon throughout the season. On April 29, the orchestra presents a day of the composer’s music, including Harmonielehre conducted by Leonard Slatkin, Gnarly Buttons and Shaker Loops.

In California
Celebrations in Adams’s home state abound in February and March, led by San Francisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Adams curates an eclectic programme for San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox series (Feb 10–11), featuring his own works along with selections from Andrew Norman, Jacob Cooper, and Ashley Fure. San Francisco Symphony next presents The Gospel According to the Other Mary (Feb 16–18) and Scheherazade.2 (Feb 22–25), featuring violin soloist Leila Josefowicz. The Los Angeles Philharmonic follows up with a brand new semi-staged production of Nixon in China directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer (Mar 3/5), conducted by the composer himself. Additional home state celebrations include Cal Performances’ revival of Lucinda Childs’s production of Available Light (Feb 3/4), setting Adams’s richly impressionistic Light Over Water.

Across the US
Chicago Symphony celebrates the composer’s birthday in March with a three programmes featuring his works: Scheherazade.2 (Mar 2–7), Slonimsky’s Earbox (Mar 9–11), and John’s Book of Alleged Dances (Mar 12). The New York Philharmonic also presents major Adams at 70 programming during director Alan Gilbert’s final season with the orchestra, including two programmes featuring Adams’s works (Absolute Jest, Mar 9–11; Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Mar 15–18). Additionally, the Philharmonic will perform his works on its European spring tour in London (Apr 1–2) as part of the Barbican’s Adams at 70 celebration.

The St. Louis Symphony and Chorus – with whom Adams has enjoyed an especially close relationship for years – performs The Gospel According to the Other Mary with David Robertson in the orchestra’s home city before bringing the monumental work to Carnegie Hall on March 31. The St. Lawrence String Quartet – another champion of Adams’s works – will perform his Second Quartet in a concert presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (Apr 25).

Final celebration: world premiere of new opera
The anniversary festivities circle back to Adams’s home state of California for the grand finale: the world premiere of his new opera, Girls of the Golden West, presented by San Francisco Opera in November and December 2017. The two-act opera is set during the 1850s California Gold Rush with libretto and production by Peter Sellars. To learn more about the world premiere production, read San Francisco Opera’s 2017–2018 season announcement and a watch a video introduction.


> Further information on Work: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

Photo: Vern Evans

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