John Coolidge Adams (1947) has an extensive body of work that encompasses chamber music, orchestral composition and opera. Although his musical roots lie in New England (US), he currently lives and works in California. John Adams grew up with the big bands in which his father played and the musicals in which his mother sang. He saw Mozart as his great idol but was equally carried away by Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and The Beach Boys. He began composing at the age of ten and went on to study composition at Harvard University. It was there that he distanced himself from the inflexibility and atonality of post-war composers. He felt more drawn to the minimalism that was emerging around that time. A hallmark of his work is the fusion of ‘western’ musical traditions and popular culture – minimal music first and foremost, but also pop and jazz.
Adams became famous for his music-theatre productions – collaborating for many years with director Peter Sellars – in which he regularly tackles sensitive social issues. His best-known orchestral compositions are Shaker Loops (1978), Harmonielehre (1985), Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986), Chamber Symphony (1992) and Naive and Sentimental Music (1999). The operas that established his reputation include Nixon in China (1987), The Death of Klinghoffer (1991) and Doctor Atomic (2005). In 2002, he wrote On the Transmigration of Souls, in memory of the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center. For this, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Music. In recent years he has written a Saxophone Concerto (2013), as an ode to the great jazz saxophonists John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Wayne Shorter. Another recent piece of his is the oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary (2013). In 2015, a new violin concerto, entitled Scheherazade.2, premiered. In this piece he calls attention to the oppression of women around the world. The works of Adams have earned him numerous Grammys and a Pulitzer Prize for music. He has also been awarded honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale and the Royal Academy of Music.
On 28 February 2019, his opera project Girls of the Golden West – again directed by Peter Sellars – had its European premiere at the National Opera in Amsterdam.