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John Adams

 b.15 February 1947, Worcester, MassachusettsPhoto credit: Christine Alicino

Biography


English    Deutsch    


Short Biography:

Composer, conductor, and creative thinker John Adams (b. 1947) occupies a unique position in the world of American music. His works, both operatic and symphonic, stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes.

Works spanning more than three decades have entered the repertoire and are among the most performed of all contemporary classical music, among them Harmonielehre, Shaker Loops, his Violin Concerto, Chamber Symphony, Doctor Atomic Symphony, and Short Ride in a Fast Machine. His stage works, all in collaboration with director Peter Sellars, include Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, El Niño, Doctor Atomic, A Flowering Tree, and the Passion oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary. His large-scale choral work, On the Transmigration of Souls, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11, received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Music. His Violin Concerto won the 1993 Grawemeyer Award. Surveys conducted by organizations such as the League of American Orchestras repeatedly show Adams as the most frequently performed living American composer of orchestral music.

Adams has received honorary doctorates from Juilliard, Yale, Harvard, Northwestern, and Cambridge University in England, among other institutions. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California honored him with the Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement for his distinguished service to the arts in his adopted home state. Adams is an inductee of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an NEA Opera Honors recipient, a winner of the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, and has won multiple Grammy awards. France has also honored Adams by inducting him as a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Recent works include Absolute Jest for string quartet and orchestra, based on fragments of late Beethoven quartets, commissioned for the San Francisco Symphony’s 100th anniversary; his Saxophone Concerto, written for internationally renowned saxophonist Timothy McAllister; and Scheherazade.2, his dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra, written for Leila Josefowicz.

As a conductor, Adams appears with the world’s major orchestras in programs combining his own works with a wide variety of repertoire ranging from Beethoven and Mozart to Ives, Carter, Zappa, Glass, and Ellington. He is currently Creative Chair for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

"[John Adams] may be the most vital and eloquent composer in America" (The New Yorker).

February 2016

Long Biography:

Composer, conductor, and creative thinker John Adams occupies a unique position in the world of American music. His works, both operatic and symphonic, stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes. Over the past 25 years, Adams’s music has played a decisive role in turning the tide of contemporary musical aesthetics away from academic modernism and toward a more expansive, expressive language, entirely characteristic of his New World surroundings.

Born and raised in New England, Adams learned the clarinet from his father and played in marching bands and community orchestras during his formative years. He began composing at age ten and heard his first orchestral pieces performed while still a teenager. The intellectual and artistic traditions of New England, including his studies at Harvard University and attendance at Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts, helped shape him as an artist and thinker. After earning two degrees from Harvard, he moved to Northern California in 1971 and has since lived in the San Francisco Bay area.

Adams taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for ten years before becoming composer-in-residence of the San Francisco Symphony (1982–85), and creator of the orchestra’s highly successful and controversial "New and Unusual Music" series. Several of Adams’s landmark orchestral works were written for and premiered by the San Francisco Symphony, including Harmonium (1980–81), Grand Pianola Music (1982), Harmonielehre (1984–85), My Father Knew Charles Ives (2003), and Absolute Jest (2012).

In 1985, Adams began a collaboration with the poet Alice Goodman and stage director Peter Sellars that resulted in two groundbreaking operas: Nixon in China (1987) and The Death of Klinghoffer (1991). Produced worldwide, these works are among the most performed operas of the last two decades. Five further stage collaborations with Sellars followed: the 1995 "songplay", I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, with a libretto by June Jordan; El Niño (2000), a multilingual retelling of the nativity story; Doctor Atomic (2005), about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the first atomic bomb; A Flowering Tree, inspired by Mozart’s Magic Flute and premiered in Vienna in 2006; and the Passion oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary (2012). Gustavo Dudamel toured The Gospel According to the Other Mary with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Europe and New York City in the spring of 2013, and the English National Opera premiered a fully staged version in 2014.

Other signal Adams works that have become repertory with orchestras, choruses, and ensembles include Shaker Loops for strings, The Dharma at Big Sur (a concerto for electric violin inspired by the writings of Jack Kerouac), Doctor Atomic Symphony (a 22-minute symphony drawn from the opera), his Violin Concerto, Chamber Symphony and Son of Chamber Symphony (choreographed as Joyride by Mark Morris).

Recent works include Absolute Jest for string quartet and orchestra, based on fragments of late Beethoven quartets, commissioned for the San Francisco Symphony’s 100th anniversary; his Saxophone Concerto, written for internationally renowned saxophonist Timothy McAllister; and Scheherazade.2, his dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra, written for Leila Josefowicz.

Adams has received honorary doctorates from Juilliard, Yale, Harvard, Northwestern, and Cambridge University in England, among other institutions. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California honored him with the Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement for his distinguished service to the arts in his adopted home state. Adams is an inductee of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an NEA Opera Honors recipient, a winner of the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, and has won multiple Grammy awards. France has also honored Adams by inducting him as a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His Violin Concerto won the 1993 Grawemeyer Award, and for composing On the Transmigration of Souls, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11, he received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

John Adams is an active conductor, appearing with the world’s major orchestras in programs combining his own works with a wide variety of repertoire ranging from Beethoven and Mozart to Ives, Carter, Zappa, Glass, and Ellington. He has conducted the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the Orquesta Nacional de España in Madrid, among others. Adams is currently Creative Chair with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

In addition to being a composer and conductor, John Adams is also a highly esteemed and provocative writer. He is a contributor to the New York Times Book Review and has written for the New Yorker and the Times of London. Hallelujah Junction, Adams’s much praised volume of memoirs and commentary on American musical life, won the Northern California Book Award for Creative Nonfiction and was named one of the "most notable books of the year" by the New York Times.

The official John Adams website is www.earbox.com.

February 2016

This biography can be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with the following credit:
Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.

 



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