American Composer 1947 -
About the Composer
My own thoughts on the music of John Adams
John Adams began composing relatively early; at ten he started composing, and by 14 he had heard his works performed. Entering Harvard University in 1965, Adams became the conductor for the Bach Society Orchestra. At Walter Piston’s Clarinet Concerto world premiere, Adams performed on the clarinet as the soloist. He moved to San Francisco in 1972 to teach at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music until 1984.
While at the conservatory, Adams worked in an electronic music studio and was the conductor of the New Music Ensemble. It was in San Francisco that he heard the minimalist works of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley for the first time, and was immediately drawn to its sound. However, he soon felt that although minimalism was “the most important stylistic development in Western art music since the Fifties”, the genre had its limits, since repetition was its foundation.
Adams coined the term “post-minimalism” starting with his piece for string septet Shaker Loops (1978). This style is characterized by greater dynamic contrasts and a more fluid and layered sound. The completion and premiere of Harmonium in 1981 was well-received by critics and the public, establishing Adams as a major American composer. In 1987, he made yet another impact on the music scene with his opera Nixon in China. Another major opera work followed in 1991, titled The Death of Klinghoffer, which, like Nixon in China, detailed a historic event.
At the turn of the century, Adams composed El Niño (2000), an oratorio based on the Christmas story of Jesus Christ. With the tragic events that transpired on September 11, 2001, Adams was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center’s Great Performers to compose a piece in memory of the victims. The result, On the Transmigration of Souls (2002), is a work for orchestra, chorus and children’s choir on pre-recorded tape, earning Adams a 2003 Pulitzer Prize.
John Adams continues to compose to this day, with his most recent work being The Gospel According to the Other Mary (Oratorio for Chorus, Orchestra and Soloists) in 2013.
Most Significant Musical Works
MAIN POINTS to REMEMBER
1. A Modern American Composer born in 1947
2. His style is "post minimalist"
3. Was inspired by Phillip Glass and Steve Reich
4. He composed a famous piece on the topic of the tragic events of Sept 11
5. He is alive and still working today