WFIU’s featured contemporary composer for September is John Adams.
Born in 1947, John Adams began his musical studies in clarinet with his father and Felix Viscuglia of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. After receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard, he moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where has lived ever since.
Adams taught at the San Francisco Conservatory for ten years, and through his collaborations with the San Francisco Symphony’s “New and Unusual Music” series, he did much to encourage the new music scene by commissioning works by important experimental composers. As composer-in-residence for the SFS from 1979 to 1985, he wrote Harmonium and Harmonielehre, which helped establish his national reputation.
It was also during this time with the San Francisco Symphony that he collaborated with director Peter Sellars on Nixon in China, an opera about President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. His next two works, The Death of Klinghoffer and I was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, were also collaborations with Sellars.
At a young age, Adams made the decision that his compositions would move away from the avant-garde movement prevalent in classical music after World War II. While he is most frequently categorized as a minimalist composer, his music remains much more tonal than that of minimalists Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
In the last twenty years, Adams’ works have included more elements of polyphony, chromaticism, and virtuosity, while maintaining his preference for conflicting meters and unbalanced phrases.
WFIU will feature the music of John Adams throughout the month of September.