Adams, John

Period: 21st Century

Born: Saturday, February 15, 1947 in Worcester, Massachusetts (USA)

As of September 2023 this composer is still living.
To report updated information, please see the Contact Info page.

Nation of Origin: United States

Major Works:

Stage works:
Nixon in China
opera in three acts (1985-87)
The Death of Klinghoffer
opera in two acts (1990-91)
I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky
songplay in two acts (1995)
El Nino
A Nativity Oratorio (1999-2000)

Common Tones in Simple Time
for chorus and large orchestra (1980-81)
Shaker Loops
version for string orchestra (1983)
The Chairman Dances
foxtrot for orchestra (1985)
Tromba lontana
fanfare for orchestra (1985)
Short Ride in a Fast Machine
fanfare for orchestra (1986)
Fearful Symmetries
Eros Piano
for piano and orchestra (1989)
Violin Concerto
El Dorado
Slonimsky's Earbox
Century Rolls
for piano and orchestra (1996)
Naive and Sentimental Music
Guide to Strange Places

Voice and orchestra:
The Wound-Dresser
for baritone voice and orchestra (1988)
The Nixon Tapes
three suites for voices and orchestra from Nixon in China (1987)

Chamber Music:
Piano Quintet
Shaker Loops
for string septet (1978)
Chamber Symphony
John's Book of Alleged Dances
for string quartet (1994)
Road Movies
for violin & piano (1995)
Gnarly Buttons
for clarinet and chamber ensemble (1996)

Other ensemble works:

American Standard
for unspecified chamber ensemble (1973)*
Christian Zeal & Activity
for unspecified chamber ensemble (1973)
for six voices, three saxophones and live electronics (1975)*
Grand Pianola Music
for 2 pianos, 3 female voices, winds, brass & percussion (1982)
for amplified ensemble (1996)

for mixed chorus, osciallators and filters (1974)*
for chorus and large orchestra (1980-81)
Choruses from The Death of Klinghoffer

Tape and electronic compostions:
Heavy Metal
two-channel tape (1970)*
Studebaker Love Music
two channel tape (1976)*
four channel tape (1976)*
Light Over Water
two channel tape (1983)
Hoodoo Zephyr

Piano solo or duet:
Phrygian Gates
for piano (1977)
China Gates
for piano (1977)
Hallelujah Junction
for two pianos (1996)

Film score:
Matter of Heart
music for the documentary film about C.G. Jung (1982)*
An American Tapestry
music for the film
Directed by Gregory Nava
Produced by Barbara Martinez-Jitner
released on the Showtime Cable Channel

Arrangements and Orchestrations:
The Black Gondola
(orchestration of La Lugubre Gondola by Franz Liszt) (1990)
Berceuse elegiaque
(arrangement for small orchestra of Busoni's original) (1991)
Le Livre de Baudelaire
mezzo soprano & orchestra (orchestration of four songs by
Claude Debussy from Cinq poemes de Charles Baudelaire) (1993)
La Mufa
(orchestration of tango by Astor Piazzolla) (1995)
Todo Buenos Aires
(orchestration of tango by Astor Piazzolla) (1996)
(orchestration of tango by Astor Piazzolla) (1996)
Six Songs by Charles Ives
arranged for voice and chamber orchestra (1989-93)

*=unpublished compositions

Other Information:

Excerpt from

One of America's most admired and frequently performed composers, John Adams was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1947. After graduating from Harvard University in 1971, he moved to California, where he taught and conducted at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for ten years. His innovative concerts led to his appointment firstly as contemporary music adviser to the San Francisco Symphony and then as the orchestra's composer-in-residence between 1979 and 1985, the period in which his reputation became established with the success of such works as Harmonium and Harmonielehre. Recordings on the New Albion and ECM labels were followed in 1986 by an exclusive contract with Nonesuch Records, an association that continues today.

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 performances of which made them among the most performed operas in recent history. A third stage work, I Was Looking At The Ceiling And Then I Saw The Sky, a "song play" with libretto by the poet June Jordan, was also staged in more than fifty performances in both the US and Europe. His most recent stage project, El Niño, a fourth collaboration with Peter Sellars, was premiered in Paris in December 2000 and further performances took place in San Francisco in January 2001 and Berlin the folllowing April. The Nonesuch recording of El Niño, featuring Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Willard White and Kent Nagano, is the latest of Adams’s many recordings. It was awarded the French Diapason Gold Medal and well as appearing on the "best album of the year" lists of the Boston Globe, and other publications.

Adams' works have received numerous awards, among them the 1994 Royal Philharmonic Society Award for his Chamber Symphony, and the 1995 Grawemeyer Award for his Violin Concerto. Among other recent works are Century Rolls, a piano concerto written for Emanuel Ax; Naive and Sentimental Music, a 45-minute work for large orchestra written for and dedicated to Esa-Pekka Salonen; and Guide to Strange Places; which was premiered in Amsterdam in October of 2001 with the composer conducting.

Adams is the subject of a 90-minute documentary film by Tony Palmer, entitled Hail Bop!, which was first aired on Channel Four in England in 1998 and has since been televised in both Europe and the US. After a successful run of Nixon in China at the English National Opera in 2000, The Death of Klinghoffer, Adams’s second opera, is being prepared for a feature film directed by Penny Woolcock for Channel Four to be screened in late 2002. The composer conducts the London Symphony Orchestra.

In celebration of a fifteen year partnership, in 1999 Nonesuch Records released The John Adams Earbox, a 10-CD compilation comprising almost all of the composer's music over a twenty year period.

Adams continues to conduct regularly, appearing with the world's greatest orchestras, and with programs combining his own works with composers as diverse as Debussy, Stravinsky and Ravel to Zappa, Ives, Reich, Glass and Ellington. In recent seasons he has conducted the Chicago and San Francisco Symphonies, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras, the St Paul Chamber Orchestra and made his debut with the New York Philharmonic. European engagements have included performances with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Ensemble Modern, Oslo Philharmonic, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Concertgebouw, Santa Cecilia, London Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Orchestra with Felicity Lott at the BBC Proms.

The music of John Adams is published by
Hendon Music (Boosey & Hawkes) and by Associated Music Publishers (G. Schirmer, Inc.)

General Bibliography:

Lampert, Vera; Kemp, Ian; and White, Eric Walter, The New Grove Modern Masters (The New Grove Series), W. W. Norton & Company, November 1997, ISBN: 0393315924

Slonimsky, Nicolas, Music Since 1900, Schirmer Books, July 1994, ISBN: 0028724186

Griffiths, Paul, Modern Music and After: Directions Since 1945, Oxford University Press; 1st edition (April 11, 1996), ISBN: 0198165110

Slonimsky, Nicolas and Kuhn, Laura; Editors, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Gale Group, December 2000, ISBN: 0028655257

Sadie, Stanley and Tyrrell, John; Editors, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Groves Dictionaries, Inc., January 2004, ISBN: 0195170679

Rutherford-Johnson, Tim, Kennedy, Michael, and Kennedy, Joyce The Oxford Dictionary of Music, Oxford University Press, 6th Edition, 2012, ISBN: 0199578109

Links to essays at other sites:

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The John Adams Home Page
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