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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’ 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 the age of 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’ 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). A new recording of Other Mary conducted by Gustavo Dudamel with the Los Angeles Philharmonic appears on the DGG label in the spring of 2014.
His recent works include City Noir for orchestra, Absolute Jest (based on fragments of late Beethoven) for string quartet and orchestra, and the new Saxophone Concerto. City Noir and the Saxophone Concerto have been recorded for Nonesuch Records by David Robertson and the St Louis Symphony Orchestra with soloist Tim McAllister. Adams is currently at work on a new violin concerto for Leila Josefowicz. Further ahead, the Metropolitan Opera presents The Death of Klinghoffer, directed by Tom Morris. Together with Doctor Atomic in 2007 and Nixon in China in 2011, this will be the Met’s third production of an Adams opera.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California honoured him with the Governor’s Award for his distinguished service to the arts in his adopted home state. Both Harvard and Yale have granted Adams honorary doctorates, their highest awards. Adams has also been awarded Honorary Doctorates by Cambridge University, Northwestern University and the Juilliard School. 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 in Music.
John Adams is an active conductor, appearing with the world’s major orchestras in programmes combining his own works with a wide variety of repertoire ranging from Beethoven and Mozart to Ives, Carter, Zappa, Glass and Ellington. In past seasons, he has conducted the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and BBC Symphony Orchestra, among others. In the 2013/14 season, Adams appears with the Houston Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the New World Symphony orchestras, as well as the Orquesta Nacional de España in Madrid. 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 frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review and has written for The New Yorker and The Times. Hallelujah Junction, Adams’ 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.