Repertoire Search

John Adams

Born: 1947

Nationality: American

Publisher: AMP

Photo © Deborah O'Grady

John Adams is one of the best known and most often performed of America's composers. In his guide to Adams in The Guardian, Tom Service writes, "Adams was never a composer to play by the rules his predecessors had mapped out for him — even if those rules were all about opening up musical freedoms." Le Monde says that his music "…gives the impression of a rediscovered liberty, of an open door which lets in the fresh air in great gusts."

Adams was born in Worcester, Massachusetts on February 15, 1947 and grew up in Vermont and New Hampshire. He began composing at age ten and heard his first orchestral pieces performed while still a teenager. After graduating from Harvard, he moved in 1971 to the San Francisco Bay area where he has lived ever since.

His creative output spans a wide range of media: works for orchestra, opera, video, film, and dance, as well as electronic and instrumental music. Such pieces as Harmonium, Harmonielehre, Shaker Loops, and The Chairman Dances are among the best known and most frequently performed of contemporary American music. In these works he has taken minimalism into a new and fresh terrain characterized by luminous sonorities and a powerful and dramatic approach to form.

Adams's works have been programmed by every major orchestra in the United States as well as orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, and Australia. His music has also been choreographed by numerous dance companies including Dance Theater of Harlem (Garth Fagan) and the New York City Ballet (Peter Martins).

Adams's operas have been among the more controversial and widely seen stage events in recent history. In 2003 Lincoln Center presented a festival entitled "John Adams: An American Master," the most extensive festival ever mounted at Lincoln Center devoted to a living composer. Other festivals of his music have been presented in London and in Rotterdam, as well as in Stockholm.

John Adams is a much sought-after conductor, appearing with the world's major orchestras in programs combining his own works with a wide variety of repertoire ranging from Beethoven and Mozart to Ives, Carter, Zappa, Glass, and Ellington. He has appeared with the Atlanta Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Vienna Symphony, the BBC Symphony, and the London Symphony, among others. For the past six years he has been Creative Chair of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Winner of the 2003 Pulitzer prize and the 1993 Grawemeyer Award, Adams is also a member of the American Academy of Arts & Letters. He is the recipient of the Centennial Medal of Harvard University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as well as the first ever recipient of the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from Harvard and Yale, as well as Cambridge University in England and from The Juilliard School. In April of 2000 he was given a proclamation by the governor of California for his distinguished service to the arts in his home state.

The music of John Adams has been recorded in multiple versions on the Nonesuch, EMI/Angel, Philips, ECM, Chandos, New Albion, and 1750 Arch labels. Among these recordings are his Grand Pianola Music conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, Harmonielehre and The Chairman Dances conducted by Simon Rattle, and, on a pair of San Francisco Symphony recordings — the first conducted by Edo de Waart, the second by Adams himself — Harmonium. In 1985, Harmonielehre was honored as "Best Classical Album" by both Time and USA Today. His music figures in numerous award-winning movies, including "I Am Love," starring Tilda Swinton and the Academy Award-winning "Birdman" by Alejandro Iñárritu.

John Adams is also a highly esteemed and provocative writer. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review and has written for The New Yorker and The London Times. Hallelujah Junction, his much praised volume of memoirs and commentary on American musical life, was named one of "the most notable books of 2008" by The New York Times.

— July 2016
For detailed and current information about the composer, please refer to "" — the official web site of John Adams. For specific inquiries, please contact or call 212-254-2100.

Close X

Newsletter Signup

Enter your email address to keep up to date with the latest news and special offers from Music Sales Classical.
Your data is secure and you can unsubscribe at any time. Read our Privacy Policy

Click here to receive regular news
© Copyright 2019 Music Sales Classical. Part of the Music Sales Group.