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John Adams

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John Adams


John Adams (b. 15 February 1947, Worcester, Mass.) is an American composer.

Adams grew up in Vermont and New Hampshire in homes where his father played clarinet and his mother sang. In the late 1950s the family purchased a record player, and the music he heard via this new device (including Mozart string quartets, Bach Brandenburg concerti, Schoenberg, Benny Goodman, and Pete Seeger) was to prove an enormous influence on his musical life.

In his teens he heard many groups perform in Concord, N.H., including the Boston Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, and the Robert Shaw Chorale. Adams composed his first piece around age nine or ten and a received a performance of a string piece by a community orchestra when he was thirteen. Adams also played the clarinet in his high school marching band as well as in the Greater Boston Youth Symphony. Adams studied at Harvard University where he studied with Leon Kirchner, a disciple of Schoenberg, graduating with bachelor's and master's degree in 1971. Throughout his college years he continued to conduct and was invited to study with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood. Other notable composition teachers included Harold Shapero, Roger Sessions and David Del Tredici.

In 1972, Adams moved to the San Francisco area where he worked as a fork-lift operator before getting a job teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory. During his ten years at the conservatory he led the contemporary music ensemble, taught new music, composition, orchestration, analysis, opera, and at one point had a clarinet student. In reaction to his Harvard education he became interested in the music of John Cage. He used of Cage’s ideas in his performances with the school’s contemporary music ensemble. During the seventies he also became interested in the music of Wagner as well as minimalist composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

In 1978 Adams started his association with the San Francisco Symphony. He and conductor Edo de Waart started the symphony’s "New and Unusual" series, featuring new works by American and European composers. Four years later he became composer-in-residence. A number of his compositions would be premiered and/or recorded with this group including Harmonium (1980-81) and Harmonielehre (1985). By gaining more commissions Adams was able to stop working at the San Francisco Conservatory in 1982 and devote himself to composing full time.

Since the mid-1980s Adams has conducted the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Ensemble Modern, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He has also served as artistic director of the Ojai and Cabrillo Music Festivals. His awards include the Grawemeyer Award (1995), Composer of the Year from Musical America (1997), Pulitzer Prize in Music (2003) and he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1997). The New York Philharmonic recording of On the Transmigration of Souls won three GRAMMY awards including Best Classical Contemporary Composition. In 2003 Lincoln Center held a festival titled “John Adams: An American Master.” From 2003-2007 he held the Richard and Barbara Deb’s Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall, formerly held by Pierre Boulez and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. He is the most performed living American composer by American symphony orchestras over the last ten years and received much recognition in celebration of his sixtieth birthday. His recent opera Dr. Atomic received a performance by the Metropolitan Opera in October 2008.

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