2022–23 Season: Composer. Antony and Cleopatra
San Francisco Opera Highlights: Composer, The Death of Klinghoffer; Doctor Atomic; Nixon in China; Girls of the Golden West; Conductor, The Death of Klinghoffer
Composer, conductor, and creative thinker—John Adams occupies a unique position in the world of American music. His works, both operatic and symphonic, stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes.
Adams’ ground-breaking operas, created with director Peter Sellars, weave together history and mythology into powerful reflections on society: Nixon in China addresses global Realpolitik; The Death of Klinghoffer deals with terrorism and political and religious conflict; Doctor Atomic has at its core the moral crisis of science and weapons of mass destruction. Both A Flowering Tree as well as Girls of the Golden West feature women in hostile male environments. El Niño, a Nativity oratorio, fuses Biblical passages with poetry by Hispanic women, while The Gospel According to the Other Mary is a Passion oratorio with texts by, among others, the Catholic activist Dorothy Day and poets Louise Erdrich and Primo Levi.
As a conductor, Adams appears with the world’s major orchestras in programs combining his own works with a wide variety of repertoire ranging from Mozart and Beethoven to Sibelius, Stravinsky, Bartók, Zappa, Glass, and Ellington. In recent seasons, he has conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Symphoniker, the orchestras of Seattle, Cleveland, Rotterdam, the New York Philharmonic, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he has held the position of Creative Chair since 2008. He has twice been Music Director of the California’s Ojai Festival.
Adams is the 2019 recipient of the Erasmus Prize “for notable contributions to European culture, society and social science”—the only American composer to be so honored in the prize’s 61-year history. He received the 2021 Ditson Conductor’s Award from Columbia University in recognition for his “exceptional commitment to American composers.” Other significant awards include the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for On the Transmigration of Souls, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11 and the 1993 Grawemeyer Award for his Violin Concerto. Adams has additionally received honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, Northwestern University, Cambridge University, the Juilliard School, and the Royal Academy of Music. He is the author of an autobiography, Hallelujah Junction, and his writings have appeared in both The New Yorker magazine and The New York Times Book Review.
Recent releases include the world premiere recording of Doctor Atomic (Nonesuch 2018), with Adams conducting the BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Orchestra; and the Berliner Philharmoniker’s “John Adams Edition,” a 2017 box set of live performances conducted by Adams, Gustavo Dudamel, Alan Gilbert, Kirill Petrenko, and Sir Simon Rattle. In 2020, the world premiere recording of Adams’s piano concerto Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? was released on Deutsche Grammophon, featuring Yuja Wang, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Dudamel.
Together with his wife, the photographer Deborah O’Grady, Adams has created the Pacific Harmony Foundation, which funds young composers, ensembles, and music education outreach.
Recipient of the San Francisco Opera Medal