John Adams is one of the best known and most often performed of America's composers. As Andrew Porter wrote in The New Yorker, Adams is the creator of a "flexible new language capable of producing large-scale works that are both attractive and strongly fashioned. His is a music whose highly polished resonant sound is wonderful." 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 15 February 1947. During his youth -- growing up in Vermont and New Hampshire -- he was strongly influenced by the intellectual and cultural institutions of New England. He received both his BA and MA degrees from Harvard University, where he was active as a conductor, clarinetist, and composer. His principal teachers included Leon Kirchner, David Del Tredici, and Roger Sessions.
In 1971 Adams began an active career in the San Francisco area, teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (1972-83) and serving as new music adviser and composer-in-residence for the San Francisco Symphony (1978-85). 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, Grand Pianola Music, Shaker Loops, and Harmonielehre 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.
Adam's works have been programmed by every major orchestra in the United States as well as many prominent 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 two operas, Nixon in China (1987) and The Death of Klinghoffer (1991) have been among the more controversial and widely seen stage events in recent history.
John has become increasingly active as a conductor of his own and other 20th-century music. From 1987 to 1990 Adams served as creative chair of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, conducting four weeks of concerts and overseeing their new music activities. In 1993, he led a European tour of the Ensemble Modern and served as music director of the Ojai Festival. He has also conducted the Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Orchestra of St. Luke's, the Concertgebouw, and the London Sinfonietta.
The music of John Adams has been recorded in multiple versions on the Nonesuch, EMI/Angel, Philips, ECM, New Albion, and 1750 Arch labels. In 1985, Harmonielehre was honored as "Best Classical Album" by both Time magazine and USA Today. Among recent recordings are his Chamber Symphony with the London Sinfonietta, a new release of Harmonielehre conducted by Simon Rattle, The Death of Klinghoffer, conducted by Kent Nagano, and the Violin Concerto, performed by Gidon Kremer. Harmonium, Harmonielehre Grand Pianola Music, Shaker Loops, Harmonielehre, Phrygian Gates, and China Gates are available in published form from Associated Music Publishers.
John Adams - Harmonielehre (1985) Duration: 40' 4(3pic)3(ca)4(2bcl)3+cbn/4.4Ctpt.32/timp.4perc[glock.2mba.vib.xyl] /cel.2hp.pf/str
World Premiere: 21 March 1985 San Francisco Symphony Edo de Waart, conductor
Critical Acclaim: It is probably premature to label John Adams' Harmonielehre a classic until the piece has been around long enough to stake a lasting claim to our attention. But Wednesday's magnificent performance by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony was a reminder of what a towering landmark this score is. Yes, the music is beautiful, subtle, dramatically forceful and exquisitely scored. But Harmonielehre also reaches beyond its 40-minute span to address larger issues of musical style and history. It does so with thrilling ambition and equally thrilling success.
Composed for the Symphony in 1985, when Adams was the orchestra's composer-in-residence, this three-movement work -- a symphony in all but name -- forges a language at once familiar and new. It manages nothing less than a rapprochement between the motoric repetitions and stripped-down harmonies of minimalism and the lushly textured emotionalism of the late Romantics.
...a listener can hear in just about every measure that the piece is an artistic breakthrough. It's evident in the formal shape of the untitled first movement, in which a brisk, jangly minimalist episode is interrupted midway through by a burst of long, yearningly lyrical melodies, first from the cellos and then from the first violins. It's evident in the slow movement, "The Anfortas Wound," with its anguished harmonies and huge climax of shrieking pain. And it's especially evident in the beatific energy and sense of relief in the final "Meister Eckhardt and Quackie," which find its way back to the piece's opening minimalist gestures with renewed vigor and optimism.
And as always with Adams, the orchestral writing is a miracle of resourceful invention. Repeatedly throughout the performance I found myself scanning the stage, desperately trying to deduce what combination of instruments had produced some piquant sonority or burst of tone color.-- Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle (15 December 1995)
http://www.nycballet.com/RepNotes/ChairmanDances.html Rep Notes for Other Ballets
THE CHAIRMAN DANCES
Music: The Chairman Dances (1985) by John Adams Choreography by Peter Martins Premiere: May 14, 1988, New York City Ballet, American Music Festival, New York State Theater Original cast: Darci Kistler Combining the vocabulary of classical dance with a suggestion of traditional Chinese lyric gestures and pageantry, The Chairman Dances builds on the repetitiveness of its minimalist score and boldly colorful staging. It features a lead dancer and a corps of 16 women attired in brilliantly colored Chinese-style costumes, with decor by Rouben Ter-Arutunian. The ballet was inspired by a scene originally written for, but not included in, the production of Adams' opera, Nixon in China, that of Chairman Mao dancing with his future bride, the movie star Chiang Ch'ing.