2004 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition

John Adams

2004 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition

John Adams

For his fusing of a wide range of styles into a voice entirely new and distinctive, and for his connection to and reflection of the world around us

One of America's most admired and frequently performed composers, John Adams was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1947. After graduating from Harvard University in 1971, he moved to California, where he taught and conducted at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for 10 years.

Adams's innovative concerts led to his appointment first as contemporary music adviser to the San Francisco Symphony and then as the orchestra's composer-in-residence from 1979 to 1985, the period in which his reputation became established with the success of such works as "Harmonium" and "Harmonielehre." Recordings on the New Albion and ECM labels were followed in 1986 by an exclusive contract with Nonesuch Records, an association that continues today.

In 1985, Adams's collaboration with poet Alice Goodman and stage director Peter Sellars resulted in two operas, "Nixon in China" and "The Death of Klinghoffer," worldwide performances of which made them among the most performed operas in recent history. They were followed by two further stage works, the 1995 songplay "I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky," with libretto by June Jordan, and "El Niño," a multi-lingual retelling of the Nativity story composed for the celebration of the Millennium and first performed in Paris in December 2000.

Adams was awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his 2002 composition "On the Transmigration of Souls." Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, it honored the victims of the World Trade Center attacks. He has received many other awards, including the 1994 Royal Philharmonic Society Award for his "Chamber Symphony" and the 1995 Grawemeyer Award for his "Violin Concerto."

In April and May 2003, Lincoln Center presented a festival titled "John Adams: An American Master," the most extensive festival ever devoted to a living composer at Lincoln Center. Festivals of his music have been presented recently in London and Rotterdam.

In 2003, a film version of "The Death of Klinghoffer" by filmmaker Penny Woolcock was released in theaters, on television, and on DVD. The film, for which the composer conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, made its American debut at the Sundance Film Festival.

In autumn 2003, Adams was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to compose a work celebrating the opening of Walt Disney Hall, designed by Frank Gehry. For this occasion, he composed "The Dharma at Big Sur," a work for electric violin and orchestra inspired by the California landscape and Jack Kerouac's book "Big Sur."

Currently composer in residence at Carnegie Hall, Adams is working on a third opera, "Doctor Atomic," based on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the scientific and moral crises surrounding the creation of the world's first atomic bomb in 1945. It will premiere in October 2005 in San Francisco.

Adams, who is the subject of two documentary films, has served as music director of the Cabrillo Festival, artist in association with the BBC Symphony and creative chair of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Cambridge University and honorary membership in Phi Beta Kappa. In April, he was honored by the governor of California for distinguished service to the arts in his home state.

Adams regularly conducts programs combining his own works with composers as diverse as Debussy, Stravinsky, and Ravel to Zappa, Ives, Reich, Glass, and Ellington. As a guest conductor and director of music festivals in the U.S. and Europe, he has appeared with most of the world's major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the London Symphony Orchestra. His music is published by Boosey & Hawkes and Associated Music Publishers.

For more information on Adams, contact Ellen Schantz at  the Bienen School of Music at eschantz@northwestern.edu.