John Adams

John Adams

(born Worcester, Massachusetts )

One of the leading American contemporary composers, John Adams was born and raised in New England, where he was exposed to both classical music and jazz from an early age. After graduating from Harvard in the late 1960s, he relocated to the West Coast and has lived in California ever since.

Adams's Musical Style

His impressive body of work encompasses expressive and richly scored orchestral works such as Harmonium, Harmonielehre, and Naïve and Sentimental Music, as well as the very popular Short Ride in a Fast Machine.

His operas, usually in collaboration at some level with the director–librettist Peter Sellars, are among the most controversial and successful in recent years. Starting with Nixon in China – which is essentially a study of the culture clash between the United States and China – these include The Death of Klinghoffer; El Niño, a Hispanic take on the Christmas story; Doctor Atomic, about the testing of the first atomic bomb; The Gospel According to the Other Mary, a Passion oratorio concerning the biblical Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, but given a biblical and contemporary narrative by Sellars; and, most recently, Girls of the Golden West, which examines the Californian Gold Rush. He is not afraid of tackling politically charged subjects, and Klinghoffer, Adams’s recounting of the Achille Lauro terrorist incident of 1985, has often attracted protest.

Adams’s music is rooted in the driving pulses and emotional directness of American popular music, and is far away in style and approach from the dissonant modernism of much contemporary music. His music is full of energy and joy. Influenced by the minimalism of composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass, it has moved on to a highly personal, distinctive level all of Adams’s own.

Notable Operas

  • Nixon in China (1987)
  • The Death of Klinghoffer (1991)
  • El Niño (2000) opera-oratorio
  • Doctor Atomic (2005)
  • Girls of the Golden West (2017)