Sir Simon Rattle describes John Adams, with whom he has had an artistic friendship for more than 30 years, as a “great composer and wonderful human being”. In the 2016/2017 season, following several pianists and violinists, the baritone Christian Gerhaher and the director Peter Sellars, the American was the first composer in the Rattle era to hold the office of Artist in Residence. Adams started off his residence making his debut with the orchestra as a conductor, and in the following months, some of his most important works were conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, Alan Gilbert, Kirill Petrenko and Sir Simon. The film Short Rides with John Adams by Magdalena Zięba-Schwind and Daniel Finkernagel documents the composer and conductor’s residency: it shows him in rehearsals, in conversation with artist friends, and accompanies him on visits to museums and walks through Berlin. He would stay in the German capital more often, says Adams, if his California home were not so far away. In interviews with the spirited and fearless violinist Leila Josefowicz, with Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel and Alan Gilbert, we also learn how much the artist is appreciated for his humanity, humour and energy.
Born in 1947, John Adams has remained true to his distinctively American idiom while, in an astonishing way, developing over the decades far beyond his origins in Minimalism. This is exemplified by the works performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker: the selection ranges from Short Ride in a Fast Machine and Lollapalooza, the famous Harmonielehre from the eighties and the unconventional violin concerto Scheherazade.2, performed in Berlin by its dedicatee Leila Josefowicz, to the equally monumental and moving Passion oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary, whose libretto comes from Adams’s long-time collaborator, Peter Sellars. The artist, who was influenced by jazz and rock music as well as by the hippie movement in his youth, has kept a respectful distance from the European avant-garde. His compositions aim to communicate directly with the audience and, last but not least, may be seen as political statements in times of crisis.