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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. 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 and 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" (1987) and "The Death of Klinghoffer" (1991), "El Niño" (2000); "Doctor Atomic" (2005); "A Flowering Tree" (2006); and the Passion oratorio "The Gospel According to the Other Mary" (2012). Among Adams’s recent works are "City Noir," written for the Los Angels Philharmonic, and "Absolute Jest" for string quartet and orchestra, based on fragments of late Beethoven quartets, commissioned for the San Francisco Symphony’s 100th anniversary. Adams has received honorary doctorates from Harvard, Northwestern University, Cambridge University and the Juilliard School. A provocative writer, he is author of the highly acclaimed autobiography “Hallelujah Junction” and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review. 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. Recent and forthcoming activities include the BBC Proms, a two-week residency with the London Symphony Orchestra, and appearances with the Seattle Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New World Symphony, the Houston Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, and concerts in Australia with orchestras in Sydney and Melbourne. He is currently Creative Chair for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Recent recordings include the Grammy-nominated “Harmonielehre” conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas and the Nonesuch DVD of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Nixon in China” conducted by the composer. The official John Adams website is www.earbox.com.

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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’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 will tour The Gospel According to the Other Mary with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Europe and New York City in the spring of 2013.

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), Violin Concerto, Chamber Symphony and Son of Chamber Symphony (choreographed as Joyride by Mark Morris).

Among Adams’s recent works are City Noir, a 35-minute symphonic work inspired by “noir” films of the 1940s and 1950s and Absolute Jest for string quartet and orchestra, based on fragments of late Beethoven quartets, commissioned for the San Francisco Symphony’s 100th anniversary.

In May of 2012 Harvard University awarded Adams an honorary doctorate in music, its highest honor. Harvard has also conferred on him the Harvard Arts Medal and the Centennial Medal for “contributions to society.” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California honored him with the Governor’s Award for his distinguished service to the arts in his adopted home state. 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 programs 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, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony, among others.  Engagements in the 2012/2013 season include returns to the BBC “Proms” festival at Royal Albert Hall, the Seattle Symphony, the New World Symphony, and the National Symphony Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony, the Melbourne Symphony and a two-week residency with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican. He also led the International Contemporary Ensemble in a program for the inaugural season of the Green Music Center in Sonoma, California and will lead a Professional Training Workshop for young conductors at Carnegie Hall. Adams is currently Creative Chair with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His most recent recording on Nonesuch is a DVD of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Nixon in China, conducted by the composer in the original Peter Sellars staging.

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 London Times.  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.

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Reviews

"John Adams is arguably one of the best composer-conductors since Benjamin Britten... "

Gramophone Magazine

"Adams is one of the few living composers whose music attracts a wide, youthful-skewing demographic, as was made clear by the sold-out house at the Lincoln Theatre where Adams led the New World Symphony in his music Saturday night. Adams is an engaging personality, supplying his own verbal notes with humor and easy eloquence. His music is never far from the dance, as was made clear in his balletic podium presence, and Adams remains a terrific batonsmith, drawing performances that were incisive, rhythmically vital and scrupulously balanced even with the large orchestra going full blast… The musicians responded to Adams' charismatic direction with playing of whirlwind bravura… with Adams on the podium the performance kicked up a truly combustible collaboration. … The inexorable crescendo to the final coda was thrilling, with Silverman, Adams and the orchestra striking sparks in a quite sensational performance. … Adams clearly enjoys working with the New World and his presence always produces outstanding results. It would be wonderful to have Adams back as a more regular presence with the orchestra -- a boon not only for New World musicians but local audiences as well."

Lawrence A. Johnson, Miami Herald

"The composer John Adams is also a skilled and dynamic conductor. He showed his versatility on the podium in 2003 during one of the inaugural concerts for Zankel Hall, conducting demanding scores by Ives, Lou Harrison, Thomas Adès and Esa-Pekka Salonen. He certainly seemed in his element on Friday night at Carnegie Hall, when he conducted the American Composers Orchestra in an all-Adams program to commemorate his 60th birthday this year… The performances could not have been more vibrant and authoritative."

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

"Adams, who was at his most persuasive all evening, conducted with the necessary rhythmic facility of the video-gamer but also with a well-honed sense of humor. The audience, for all the right reasons, loved it."

Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

"From its opening moments, with its crisp, piping rhythms, Thursday's performance of 'El Niño' at Davies Symphony Hall was something extraordinary. All the performers in composer John Adam's Christmas oratorio—and by night's end, more than 200 were involved—seemed infected by the music's strange and startling beauties and by the clean, visceral energy that Adams brought to the performance as its conductor."

Richard Scheinin, San Jose Mercury News

"It was a thrill to hear the adventurous players of Ensemble ACJW perform 'De Staat,' scored for a large ensemble thick with brass and four amplified female voices, at Zankel Hall on Monday night. The performance concluded a bracing concert, deftly conducted by the composer John Adams, that also offered Mr. Adams’s vibrant, impish 'Son of Chamber Symphony' and Stravinsky’s tart, arresting Concerto for Piano and Winds… Mr. Adams, who spoke of his enormous regard for Mr. Andriessen, was an inspired advocate."

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

"Adams has become an assured and accomplished conductor of his own works, able to keep a strong pulse at all tempos and levels of polyphonic and polyrhythmic complexity (and this work has a great deal of both) and he maintained an attentive and easy-going hand on the ensembles and the soloists."

Seen and Heard International

"When Mr. Adams, who conducted the performance, first appeared in the pit, he received a cheering ovation from a full house. … As a conductor, Mr. Adams brought an obvious command of the metric complexities of the score to his performance. I like that he never pushed the music and tried to tease out its mysticism and hazy harmonic richness."

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

"John Adams may be the quintessential American composer of the late 21st century. … At sixty, his creative muse is as strong as ever and, like Copland, he has carved out an important second career as a conductor of contemporary music. … Responding to the composer's robust direction, the players brought high energy and radiant timbres to this curtain raiser."

Lawrence Budmen, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

"There was something about hearing John Adams conduct young artists at the Juilliard School in a concert performance on Saturday night of his opera 'The Death of Klinghoffer' that allowed this searing, mystical and ambitious work to come through without the doctrinaire baggage that has attached to it over the years. … It must have been inspiring for the orchestra players to perform this multilayered, complex and elusive score under Mr. Adams’s direction."

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

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Discography