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Adams, John Coolidge (15th February 1947-Present)

He is a composer born in Worcester, Massachusetts who was taught the clarinet by his father and played in community orchestras and marching bands while he was young.  He was a  graduate of Harvard University taught by Leon Kirchner, and during his time there was a conductor in the Harvard University Bach Society Orchestra as well as an occasional clarinetist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

He became a teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory prior to joining the San Francisco Symphony as contemporary music adviser and later as composer-in-residence.

Nixon in China was the first of his collaborations with the theatre director Peter Sellars and the poet Alice Goodman, and is possibly his best known opera which was premiered by the Houston Grand Opera and awarded the “Best Contemporary Composition” Grammy Award.

In 1993 he became Artist in Association for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and his comments on receiving the position were “the position is sufficiently unstructured and flexible to allow any number of wild things to happen.”

Although his early works were looked at as minimalistic, his later ones showed some late-Romanticism.  His compositions cover opera, orchestral, chamber, ensemble and choral works, electronic compositions, film scores, piano pieces and arrangements and his better known ones include The Death of Klinghofer, Shaker Loops and Harmonium.

His awards include the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, California Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Letres from the French Ministry of Culture, a Fellowship of the Academy by the British Academy, the Cyril Magnin Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts and he is the recipient of 4 Grammy Awards. He has been award honorary doctorates from 4 American universities and the Royal Academy of Music in London.

He has been the composer-in-residence at Carnegie Hall and his wife is the photographer Deborah O’Grady and their children are Emily and Sam, all of which have appeared on at least one his recordings and Sam is a composer in his own right.


Death of Klinghoffer, The (John Adams/Alice Goodman)
Orchestra of the Opera Lyon
Conductor – Kent Nagano
NONE 79281

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Conductor – Simon Rattle – EMI 55051

On the Transmigration of Souls
New York Philharmonic
New York Choral Artists
Brooklyn Youth Chorus
Conductor – Lorin Maazel
Trumpet – Philip Smith
Boy Soprano – Preben Antonson
Chorus – Sam and Emily Adams
Chorus – Ditsa Pines
Chorus – Deborah L. O’Grady
Chorus – Morgan Staples
Nonesuch 79816

Shaker Loops – Hymning Slews
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Conductor – Edo de Waart
Philips 475 7551

Short Ride in a Fast Machine
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Conductor – Simon Rattle
EMI CDC 5 55051 2

Here is his “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” performed at the 2014 BBC Proms…