John Adams

Composer, conductor

As a composer, conductor and creative spirit, John Adams holds a unique position in the US music world. Works such as [Harmonielehre], [Shaker Loops], [Short Ride in a Fast Machine], and his violin and piano concerto [Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?] have not only become firmly established in the repertoire, but are among the most performed pieces of classical music today.

John Adams was born in New England in 1947, began composing at the age of 10 and saw the first performances of his orchestral pieces as a teenager. After early instrumental lessons with Felix Viscuglia, who played clarinet with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he studied composition under Leon Kirchner, a student of Schoenberg, and at Harvard University. After graduating, Adams taught for ten years at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he took over the direction of the New Music Ensemble before establishing the successful New and Unusual Music series as Composer in Residence of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Adams’s close collaboration with director Peter Sellars then began, leading to many acclaimed opera and oratorio projects including [Nixon in China] and [The Gospel According to the Other Mary]. Adams, who was the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Composer in Residence during the 2016/17 season, is also a sought-after conductor, appearing with renowned orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, as well as opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In addition to numerous awards, he has received honorary doctorates from Yale and Harvard Universities, as well as Northwestern University, the Juilliard School and Cambridge University. His violin concerto won the Grawemeyer Award in 1993. His choral work [On the Transmigration of Souls], commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to commemorate the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, received the Pulitzer Prize in 2003.


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