John Adams learnt the clarinet with his father and played this instrument in harmony orchestras. He composed his first piece at the age of 10 and his compositions were already played when he was only a teenager. After his graduation from Harvard, he definitely settled in San Francisco in 1971. His work falls in line with the minimalist movement represented by John Cage, Philip Glass or Terry Riley. The repetition of rhythmic and melodic sections is the driving force of his musical style, and got richer with the influence of Charles Ives. His orchestral partitions (Shaker Loops, Harmonielehre, Violin Concerto) are cornerstones to the contemporary repertoire and strand among the most interpreted and followed pieces since the ones of Copland and Bernstein.
He worked with the director Peter Sellars to creator scenic pieces. They all are marked by their context and strongly politically engaged. Among there we find Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, Doctor Atomic, I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky.
He was made an honorary doctor at the Universities of Yale, Harvard, Cambridge and at the Julliard School. His piece On The Transmigration of Souls, that had been ordered by the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the 9/11 terrorist attacks, received the Pulitzer Price in 2003.
As an orchestra conductor, John Adams works with the best formations and directs, on top of his own work, both classic and most contemporaries composers.
Six landmark dates in the life of John Adams
1977: Found his path with minimalism
1978: Began the period of his collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony
1983: Met Peter Sellars
2000: Was honored in California for his service to the arts
2004: First prize "Michael Ludwig Nemmers" in composition
2007: Received the « Harvard Arts Medal »
Six pieces by John Adams
1977: Phrygian Gates (electronic music for Gregory Nava's movie)
1985 – 1987: Nixon in China (opera)
1991: El Dorado (for orchestra)
1993: Violin Concerto
1999: An American Tapestry (for piano)
2004 – 2005: Doctor Atomic (opera)
Radio France Musical Documentation biography, January 2014