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John Adams


  • John Adams’s "City Noir" & Saxophone Concerto Due May 6 with St. Louis Symphony, David Robertson, Saxophonist Timothy McAllister

    Nonesuch Records releases City Noir—comprising the title piece by composer John Adams and the debut recording of his Saxophone Concerto—on May 6, 2014. Both pieces are performed by the St. Louis Symphony led by Music Director David Robertson. Saxophonist Timothy McAllister is featured on both pieces. The City Noir album is available to pre-order in the Nonesuch Store.

  • John Adams Joins Toronto Symphony Orchestra for Its Tenth Annual New Creations Festival

    John Adams has teamed up with Toronto Symphony Orchestra Music Director Peter Oundjian for the tenth-annual New Creations Festival, running Saturday, March 1, through Friday, March 7. Following his TSO debut in the 2011 New Creations Festival, Adams returns with his music as a focus in the 2014 Festival, with Oundjian leading the TSO in his Doctor Atomic Symphony and the composer leading the orchestra in the Canadian premieres of his Slonimsky’s Earbox and Absolute Jest.

About John Adams

"His music is both lush and austere, grand and precise. To make an analogy to two poets whose work he has set to music, it’s Walt Whitman on the one hand and Emily Dickinson on the other." —New York Times

John Adams is one of America’s most admired and respected composers. A musician of enormous range and technical command, he has produced works, both operatic and symphonic, that stand out among all contemporary classical music for the depth of their expression, the brilliance of their sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes. His music has played a decisive role in turning the tide of musical aesthetics away from the theoretical principles of European modernism toward a more expansive and expressive language, so 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, especially the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Harvard University, helped shape him as an artist and thinker. After earning two degrees from Harvard University, he moved to Northern California in 1971 and has ever since lived in the San Francisco Bay area.

In Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life, Adams's long-awaited memoir, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in October 2008, the composer relates his life story, from his childhood to his early studies in classical composition amid the musical and social ferment of the 1960s, from his landmark minimalist innovations to his controversial “docu-operas" and offers a portrait of the rich musical scene of 1970s California, and of his contemporaries and colleagues, including John Cage, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass. The New York Times calls it an "absorbing book, which at times reads like a quest narrative that travels through the whole landscape of 20th-century music."

Adams taught for ten years at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music before becoming Composer in Residence with the San Francisco Symphony (1982-85) and the 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 (1981), Grand Pianola Music (1982), Harmonielehre (1985) and El Dorado (1992).

In 1985, Adams began a collaboration with the poet Alice Goodman and stage director Peter Sellars that resulted in two operas, Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, worldwide productions of which made them among the most performed operas in recent history. These operas were followed by three further stage works done with Sellars: the 1995 “songplay” I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, with libretto by June Jordan; El Niño, a multi-lingual retelling of the Nativity story composed for the celebration of the Millennium; and Doctor Atomic (2005), about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the first atomic bomb. Adams’s latest opera, A Flowering Tree, inspired by Mozart’s The Magic Flute, will premiere in November of 2006 in Vienna. Based on a folk tale from southern India, it shares similar themes with its Mozart model: youth, love, and the emergence of moral consciousness. For the Vienna premiere, Adams will conduct the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar, the world-famous Venezuelan youth orchestra.

In 2002, Adams composed On the Transmigration of Souls for the New York Philharmonic, a work written in commemoration of the first anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks. This work received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Music, and the Nonesuch recording won a rare “triple crown” at the Grammys, including “Best Classical Recording”, “Best Orchestral Performance”, and “Best Classical Contemporary Composition.”

In April and May of 2003, Lincoln Center presented a festival entitled John Adams: An American Master, the most extensive festival ever mounted at Lincoln Center devoted to a living composer. International festivals of Adams’s music have been presented in London, Rotterdam, and Stockholm. He has twice been featured guest on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross and has been the subject of a New Yorker magazine profile.

In 2003, a film version of The Death of Klinghoffer, Adams’s second opera, directed by Penny Woolcock for Channel Four, was released in theaters, on television, and on DVD. The film, for which the composer conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, made its American debut at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to win several international prizes, including the Prix Italia and the Vienna TV Award for 2004.

Among other recent works are The Dharma at Big Sur, for electric violin and orchestra, inspired by literary impressions of the California landscape by such writers as Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Henry Miller, and My Father Knew Charles Ives, an evocation of Adams’s boyhood in central New Hampshire. The Nonesuch recording of these two works, featuring the composer conducting the BBC Symphony, was released in September 2006.

Adams was awarded the Centennial Medal of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences “for contributions to society” during Commencement week in June 2004. In the same year he became the first ever recipient of the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition from Northwestern University.

Adams, who is the subject of three documentary films, has also served as Music Director of the Cabrillo Festival, as Artist in Association with the BBC Symphony, and as Creative Chair of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Honored with a proclamation by the governor of California for his distinguished service to the arts in his home state, he has also been awarded an honorary doctorate by Cambridge University in England as well as an honorary membership in Phi Beta Kappa.

Nonesuch Records released Adams’s Harmonielehre in 1985, and since then all of his works, both symphonic and theatrical, have appeared first on that label. A ten-CD set, The John Adams Earbox, documents his recorded music through 2000.

The John Adams Reader: Essential Writings on an American Composer, edited by Tom May and published by Amadeus Press, is a 400-page summary of writings about Adams and his music is the first full-length in-depth collection of texts dealing with more than 30 years of his creative life.

John Adams maintains an active life as a conductor, appearing with the world’s greatest orchestras, with programs combining his own works with composers as diverse as Debussy, Stravinsky, Bartòk, and Ravel to Zappa, Ives, Reich, Glass, and Ellington. As a guest conductor and as director of music festivals in the US and Europe he has appeared with orchestras that include the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the London Symphony. As Artist in Association with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he regularly appears with that orchestra as conductor in concerts in London’s Barbican and at the annual Albert Hall Proms concerts.

Adams is the Creative Chair for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, for whom he curated the hugely popular Minimalist Jukebox in 2006 and the West Coast/Left Coast festival in 2009. The Philharmonic gave the world premiere of Adams's City Noir during the orchestra's October 2009 Opening Night concert, which also marked the inaugural performance of its new music director, Gustavo Dudamel.

The music of John Adams is published by Boosey & Hawkes and by Associated Music Publishers.

Latest Release

  • City Noir / Saxophone Concerto

    City Noir / Saxophone Concerto

    John Adams's City Noir (2009) and the debut recording of his 2012 Saxophone Concerto are performed here by the St. Louis Symphony led by David Robertson, featuring saxophonist Timothy McAllister. City Noir, inspired by Los Angeles "noir" films of the 1940s and '50s, "is riveting," says the New York Times. Adams composed his Saxophone Concerto for McAllister, whom he calls "a fearless musician and risk taker," after McAllister's performance of the sax solo part in City Noir.