“If American music has a living epitome, it is John Adams”
(The Sunday Times)
Creative Chair: Los Angeles Philharmonic
Composer, conductor, and creative thinker – John Adams occupies a unique position in the world of music. His works stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes; his stage compositions, all in collaboration with director Peter Sellars, have transformed the genre of contemporary music theatre. Spanning more than three decades, works such as Harmonielehre, Shaker Loops, El Niño and Nixon in China are among the most performed of all contemporary classical music.
As a conductor he has led the world’s major orchestras, programming his own works with a wide variety of repertoire ranging from Beethoven, Mozart and Debussy to Ives, Carter and Ellington.Among his honorary doctorates are those from Yale, Harvard, Northwestern and Cambridge universities and from 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. Since 2009 Adams has been Creative Chair of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
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 age ten and his first orchestral pieces were performed while he was still a teenager. In 2017 Adams celebrated his 70th birthday with festivals of his music in Europe and the US, including special retrospectives at London’s Barbican, Cité de la Musique in Paris, and in Amsterdam, New York and Geneva, among other cities. In 2019 he was the recipient of both Spain’s BBVA “Frontiers of Knowledge” award and Holland’s Erasmus Prize “for notable contributions to European culture, society and social science.”
Conducting highlights in 2018/19 included performances with The Cleveland Orchestra, Dallas Symphony and Oslo Philharmonic orchestras, the world premiere of Philip Glass’ Symphony No.12 “Lodger” with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and performances of The Gospel According to the Other Mary with the Orchestra e Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. In February 2019 the Dutch National Opera gave the European premiere of Adams’ new opera about the Californian Gold Rush, Girls of the Golden West, first premiered by the San Francisco Opera in November 2017.
Recent recordings include two Grammy-nominated albums: Doctor Atomic – featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers conducted by Adams, with Gerald Finley and Julia Bullock; Scheherazade.2, a dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra written for Leila Josefowicz; and the Berliner Philharmoniker’s “John Adams Edition”, a box set comprising seven of his works, conducted by Rattle, Dudamel, Petrenko, Gilbert and Adams.
“Out of a work [Copland’s Appalachian Spring] that never fails to stir, Adams managed to draw fresh reserves of emotion and vitality. In his hands, the characters sprang to sparkling life, as if performed by dancers, and the slower scenes, taken at wonderfully spacious tempos, radiated uncommon tenderness and warmth.”
(Cleveland.com, November 2018)
“[Doctor Atomic] Superbly recorded, the BBC Singers and Symphony Orchestra pull total focus under Adams; ever more experienced baton […] This is compelling account on every level.”
(BBC Music Magazine, August 2018)
“You couldn’t fault the performance. Adams’s conducting, second to none in his own music, had tremendous conviction and unique authority, with every facet of the score’s terrible beauty laid bare.”
(The Guardian, April 2017)
“John Adams’s discursive 2014 violin concerto Scheherazade.2 sounded fierce and bright, its multiple twists and turns precisely tailored to the sound and style of the violinist, Leila Josefowicz.”
(Anna Picard, The Times, October 2015)
“Adams conducted the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in his own compositions, immediately enthralling the 400 pairs of unaccustomed ears with Two Fanfares for Orchestra, one of which being Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Brief but effective, the pulse unwavering – not every composer is a conductor, but Adams does know a thing or two about wielding a baton. The razor-sharp brass tore along every corner of the hall. … Adams wouldn’t be Adams had he not overwhelmed in the symphonic interludes as a master of suspense.”
(Frederike Berntsen, Trouw, October 2015)
“The orchestra glows under Adams’s baton from the enigmatic arpeggios of Act 1 (“The people are the heroes”) to the brittle snap of the brindisi (drinking song) and Act II ballet and the boozy gloss of saxophone and cocktail piano in Act III.”
(Anna Picard, BBC Music Magazine, May 2013)
“This skeletally staged concert performance, played to a packed and rapturous hall, had the added frisson of being conducted by the composer himself, in the presence of the librettist, now an Anglican parson. Adams takes a mellow view of his own music, emphasising its instrumental colours rather than pressing on its motor force, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra obliged him with some superlative playing.”
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