John Adams


Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1947




Modern 1920-Present


Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Harmonium, Nixon in China, On the Transmigration of Souls


One of America's most admired and frequently performed composers, John Adams likes to use form in new ways to produce his modern music, much of which is often classified as "minimalist" - a style of music that is characterized by extreme sparseness and simplicity. Adams was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1947. He grew up in the northeast, and received both his BA and MA degrees from Harvard University, where he conducted, played the clarinet, and composed. After he graduated from Harvard, Adams moved to California, where he taught and conducted at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for ten years. In 1978 he began working with the San Francisco Symphony. Many of Adams's most important works, including Harmonium, Harmonielehre, Grand Pianola Music, and El Niño, were commissioned (the orchestra requested that the piece be written for them) and premiered (played for the very first time ever) by that orchestra.

In 1985 Adams began writing two operas, Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer. His music has also been choreographed by numerous dance companies including the Dance Theater of Harlem and the New York City Ballet. Adams has recently composed a piece called Century Rolls (a piano concerto that he wrote for the famous pianist, Emanuel Ax), Naïve & Sentimental Music (a 45-minute symphony for large orchestra), and Guide to Strange Places for orchestra.

On September 19, 2002, Adams's newest work, On the Transmigration of Souls, opened the new season of the New York Philharmonic under its new music director, Lorin Maazel. The piece was written by Adams to remember the lives of those lost on September 11th. The texts for the piece are drawn from missing persons' posters, Internet postings, cell phone calls, and other personal artifacts relating to the events of September 11, 2001. The work is 24 minutes long and written for chorus, children's chorus, orchestra, and prerecorded sound.

Adams has been conducting more and more of his own and other 20th-century music. He has conducted some of the world's greatest orchestras and likes to conduct his own works on the same concert of composers from many different musical periods such as Debussy, Stravinsky and Ravel to Zappa, Ives, Reich, Glass, and Ellington. In 2003 John Adams became the Composer in Residence at Carnegie Hall.