Born: 1947


John Adams

One of the most widely-performed and influential composers of our time, the American John Adams's most famous works include the operas Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic, the orchestral works Harmonielehre and Short Ride in a Fast Machine, and the oratorios El Niño and The Gospel According to the Other Mary.

Explore Adams's life and music...

Contemporary composer: John Adams

James McCarthy celebrates that rare beast – a composer who writes music that is enjoyed by the critics and the public alike... Read the article

John Adams interview: 'I don’t think you can be a great composer unless you have a feeling for harmony'

Philip Clark meets the great American composer... Read the interview

John Adams – An American Idol

John Adams continues to create a sense of what it means to be alive today in America, writes Philip Kennicott... Read the article

The Passion and Play of John Adams

The legendary American composer is taking more risks than ever, says Thomas May... Read the article

Playlist: John Adams – a life in music

John Adams studied composition at Harvard, where his teachers included Kirchner, Kim, Del Tredici and Sessions. Influenced by the music of Steve Reich, he started exploring minimalism, and works from this period include Shaker Loops (1978), Harmonium for orchestra with choir (1981), the exuberant, parodistic Grand Pianola Music (1982), the opera Nixon in China (1987) and a Violin Concerto (1993). Deeply affected by the events of September 11, 2001, Adams wrote a work for chorus, children’s chorus, orchestra and pre-recorded tape as a commission from the New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series, On the Transmigration of Souls: it was premiered in September 2002.

His opera Doctor Atomic (2005) is again based on true events; the story concerns the creation of the atomic bomb; the work was premiered in San Francisco. Adams has since created a symphony from the work. 

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