The forty-disc box set John Adams Collected Works features recordings spanning more than four decades of the composer’s career with the label, plus two extensive booklets with new essays and notes by Timo Andres, Julia Bullock, Robert Hurwitz, Nico Muhly, and Jake Wilder-Smith. Nonesuch made its first record with John Adams in 1985; he was signed exclusively to the label that year, and since then the company has released forty-two first recordings and thirty-one all-Adams albums. “John Adams coming to the label was one of the central events in our company’s history,” says Robert Hurwitz, Nonesuch’s longtime President and current Chairman Emeritus. “The recordings were done in real time, mostly within a few months of a piece’s first performance. Every recording was either conducted by John, or made under close supervision of the composer, who was in the control booth for every album—when he wasn’t on the podium.” Collected Works includes thirty-five discs of Nonesuch recordings and five from other labels.
Nonesuch Records releases the forty-disc John Adams Collected Works, a box set featuring recordings spanning more than four decades of the composer’s career with the label, on June 24, 2022. The release includes two extensive booklets containing new essays and notes by Timo Andres, Julia Bullock, Robert Hurwitz, Nico Muhly, and Jake Wilder-Smith.
Nonesuch made its first record with John Adams in 1985. He was signed exclusively to the label that year, and since then the company has released forty-two first recordings and thirty-one all-Adams albums, of which six are full-length operas, oratorios, or staged theatrical presentations. Four of Adams’ Nonesuch records have won Grammy Awards, among other honors.
“John Adams coming to the label was one of the central events in our company’s history,” says Robert Hurwitz, Nonesuch’s longtime President and current Chairman Emeritus. “The idea of a label recording all of the works of its most cherished composers had been long established in the classical record business, most notably the efforts of Columbia with Stravinsky, Decca with Britten, and Deutsche Grammophon with Stockhausen." With this box, Nonesuch and Adams are now added to that list.
“Every recording was either conducted by John, or made under close supervision of the composer, who was in the control booth for every album—when he wasn’t on the podium.”
Hurwitz continues: “As the record business changed, we realized the urgency of preserving this amazing accomplishment in a physical form; the music’s importance to our culture cannot be underestimated and the idea of much of it only being available digitally in the future was difficult to imagine.
“In making the box we left a little extra space, since Nonesuch plans to continue recording John’s work.”
John Adams occupies a unique position in the world of music. Long embraced by the world’s leading orchestras and conductors, instrumental soloists and singers, choreographers and opera directors, his works are among the most performed of all contemporary classical music. Early in his career, Adams was 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. Many of his landmark orchestral works were written for and premiered by the San Francisco Symphony, including Harmonium (1981), Grand Pianola Music (1982), Harmonielehre (1985), and Absolute Jest (2012).
In 1985, Adams began a collaboration with stage director Peter Sellars that has resulted in more than three decades of groundbreaking operas and oratorios: Nixon in China (1987) and The Death of Klinghoffer (1991), both to libretti by Alice Goodman; El Niño (2000), Doctor Atomic (2005); A Flowering Tree (2006); The Gospel According to the Other Mary (2012); and Girls of the Golden West (2017).
Since 2009 Adams has held the position of Creative Chair with the Los Angeles Philharmonic where he has been instrumental in the success of that orchestra’s highly creative Green Umbrella new music series.
Adams also has become a significant mentor of the younger generation of American composers. In his liner note, Adams’ label mate, composer and pianist Timo Andres says: “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that when Road Movies was dropped into my lap as a college freshman, it triggered a chain reaction that led me where I am now … John’s music has been such a constant in my life that it’s reached a base level of my consciousness—it’s part of the way I hear all music now.”
This year launched with a major focus on Adams’ music in Zürich with the Tonhalle Orchestra, from January to March. Orchestras around the world will likewise present major performances of his works including Cincinnati Symphony, NDR Elbphilharmonie, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Budapest Festival Orchestra. This spring, Adams’ piano concerto Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? tours to orchestras around the world: Seattle, St. Louis, Cleveland, Zürich, Iceland, Gothenburg, and San Francisco; Adams conducted a performance of it by the Cleveland Orchestra and Jeremy Denk earlier this year. In September 2022, Adams’s new opera Antony & Cleopatra will open the San Francisco Opera’s centennial season.
Nonesuch Records has historically had close relationships with modern composers. During the years of Tracey Sterne, the label made multiple recordings of Elliott Carter, George Crumb, Charles Wuorinen, and William Bolcom. Since 1985, Nonesuch has made multiple recordings of works by Philip Glass, Stephen Sondheim, Laurie Anderson, Caroline Shaw, Louis Andriessen, John Zorn, Adam Guettel, Henryk Górecki, Timo Andres, Nico Muhly, and Donnacha Dennehy. For Steve Reich, like John Adams, Nonesuch has recorded every new piece of his music since 1985 and will also release a collection of his complete works—in 2023.
While Nonesuch recordings comprise thirty-five of the forty discs in Collected Works, the set also includes recordings from other labels, including: the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s recordings of The Gospel According to the Other Mary and Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?, with Yuja Wang, on Deutsche Grammophon; a recording by Christina and Michelle Naughton of Roll Over Beethoven on Warner Classics; and the San Francisco Symphony’s recordings of Absolute Jest and Grand Pianola Music. The Berlin Philharmonic’s recording of Harmonielehre, conducted by Adams, is the final CD in the set, serving as the bookend to the piece’s first recording, by the San Francisco Symphony led by Edo de Waart on Nonesuch that is the first disc of the set.