Born: Feb 15, 1947 in Worcester, MA
Genre: Opera, Orchestral Music, Chamber Music
Born in Massachusetts in 1947, composer John Adams was raised in Vermont and New Hampshire, surrounded by the active cultural life of New England. At the age of 10 he began studying clarinet, musical theory, and composition. His main clarinet teacher was Felix Viscuglia of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He later attended Harvard University, studying composition with Leon Kirchner, David Del Tredici, and Roger Sessions, while substituting as a clarinetist in the Boston Symphony. In 1971, he was appointed head of the composition department at the San Francisco Conservatory, a position he held until 1981. Adams founded a series of "New and Unusual Music" concerts with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, which lead to his appointment as its composer-in-residence (1983-1985), making him the first composer to hold such a post with the SFSO.
Adams emerged in the last decades of the twentieth century as one of the most influential and widely performed American composers since Copland. In early works, such as Phrygian Gates (1977) for piano, and Common Tones in Simple Time (1979) for orchestra, Adams' musical language is most heavily influenced by the stripped-down harmonic palette and motoric pulse of minimalism. Nevertheless, even in these works, Adams' trademark rhythmic vigor and sense of large-scale architecture are already in evidence. In the 1980s, Adams' affinity with the orchestra came into full effect with Harmonielehre (1985), a work that fuses motoric repetitions, harmonic conciseness, and lush, textured emotionalism. Also important during this time are the exhilarating overture Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986), and the chugging, machine-like Fearful Symmetries (1988). However, it is Adams' stage works that have emerged as his most important contributions to musical literature. The "reality-based" operas Nixon in China (1987) and The Death of Klinghoffer (1990-1991) elicited both praise and controversy. His large-scale song, The Wound-Dresser (1998), set to Walt Whitman's poetry, demonstrated great emotional depth and development. I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky (1995), inspired by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, represents Adams' first foray into the realm of musical theater. Through the 1990s, Adams continued to draw on increasingly diverse sources of musical inspiration, from the electronics of Hoodoo Zephyr (1992), to cartoon music Chamber Symphony (1992), to the bluegrass of John's Book of Alleged Dances (1994). In 1995, Adams received music composition's most lucrative honor, the Grawemeyer Prize, for his Violin Concerto. He is frequently recorded, with Nonesuch Records releasing most of his music. Adams is also active as a conductor, distinguishing himself - particularly with the Ensemble Moderne - as a champion of challenging twentieth century works by composers such as Conlon Nancarrow and Frank Zappa.
All Music Guide