John Adams


A native of New England, John Adams was born in Worcester, Massachusetts and spent his youth in Vermont and New Hampshire. The cultural and intellectual life of New England, particularly the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Harvard University had a deep effect on his development. He began the study of music theory and composition at the age of ten while at the same time learning the clarinet from his father, an amateur musician with whom he played in marching bands and small orchestras during his teens.

After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard in 1969, Adams continued on at the same institution for two more years and earned an MA in music composition, studying principally with Leon Kirchner.

In 1971 Adams moved to San Francisco where he quickly became involved in that city's active and varied new music life. He taught for ten years at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and produced new music concerts, first for the Conservatory and later for the San Francisco Symphony. He created the "New and Unusual Music" series for the San Francisco Symphony and in 1983 became the orchestra's first composer-in-residence. A number of Adams's most successful orchestral works were written during that period, including Harmonium (1981), Grand Pianola Music (1982) and Harmonielehere (1985).

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. The Nonesuch recording of Nixon in China won a Grammy in 1989, and was named one of the "10 most important recordings of the decade" by Time Magazine.

A third stage work, I Was Looking At The Ceiling And Then I Saw The Sky, an "earthquake/romance" with a libretto by the poet June Jordan, was also staged in more than fifty performances in both the US and Europe by Peter Sellars.

Among his recent works are Century Rolls, a piano concerto premiered by Emanuel Ax in 1996; Hallelujah Junction for two pianos; and Naive and Sentimental Music, a fifty minute orchestral work premiered by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1999.

Adams won his second Grammy in 1998 for the Nonesuch recording of his orchestral work, El Dorado, conducted by Kent Nagano. The Nonesuch CD of "Ceiling/ Sky" was released in early 1999 and will be followed by a new composer-conducted recording of Harmonium with the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus. "The John Adams Earbox" ten-CD collection of Adams music from the past twenty years, will be released by Nonesuch in September of 1999.

Adams continues an active double life as a composer/conductor, and has appeared as guest conductor with orchestras and opera companies both in the US and Europe. In the 1998-99 season he directs concerts with the the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony. He has served as music director of the Cabrillo Festival, the Ojai Festival and he held the post of Creative Chair with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra from 1988-90.

A director of the Charles Ives Society, Adams is also an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa. He has been honored with the California Governor's Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts and was the 1995 recipient of the Cyril Magnin Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts in San Francisco. His Chamber Symphony received the 1994 Royal Philharmonic Award. In 1995 he was made a Chevalier of the Institute of Arts & Letters by the Ministry of Culture of France. In 1997 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was named "Composer of the Year" by Musical America Magazine. His Violin Concerto received the 1995 Grawameyer Award in music composition.

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

John Adams is represented as a conductor by Harrison/Parrott Ltd., London, England.

The official John Adams website is at

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