John Adams

Composer, conductor and creative thinker John Adams was born and raised in New England. He learned the clarinet from his father and played in marching bands and community orchestras during his formative years. 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.

Adams’ orchestral scores are among the most frequently performed and influential compositions by an American since the era of Copland and Bernstein. Works such as Shaker Loops, Harmonielehre, Short Ride in a Fast Machine and his Violin Concerto are by now staples of the symphonic repertoire.

Adams’ numerous theatrical works, all done in collaboration with stage director Peter Sellars, include Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer and Doctor Atomic. These operas, with themes drawn from recent American history, have made a significant impact on the course of contemporary opera.

Among his recent works are the Passion oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary, Absolute Jest (for string quartet and orchestra, based on fragments of Beethoven) and the new Saxophone Concerto, written for soloist Tim McAllister. Adams is currently composing a new violin concerto for the virtuoso Leila Josefowicz.

Adams has received honorary doctorates from Yale and Harvard, as well as from Cambridge University in England and from the Juilliard School. On the Transmigration of Souls, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11, received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

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 been guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the orchestras of Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Seattle, London and Philadelphia. He is currently Creative Chair of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

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. The official John Adams website is