Thursday, February 15, 2018

Happy Birthday, John Adams!

Composer John Adams
John Adams is one of the best known and most often performed of America's composers. Adams was born in Worcester, Massachusetts on February 15, 1947. During his youth, growing up in Vermont and New Hampshire, he was strongly influenced by the intellectual and cultural institutions of New England. He received both his BA and MA degrees from Harvard University, where he was active as a conductor, clarinetist, and composer. His principal teachers included Leon Kirchner, David Del Tredici and Roger Sessions.

In 1971, Adams began an active career in the San Francisco area, teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (1972-83) and serving as new music adviser and composer-in-residence for the San Francisco Symphony (1978-85). 
 
Adams coined the term “post-minimalism” starting with his piece for string septet Shaker Loops (1978). This style is characterized by greater dynamic contrasts and a more fluid and layered sound. The completion and premiere of Harmonium in 1981 was well-received by critics and the public, establishing Adams as a major American composer. He was the winner of the 2003 Pulitzer prize.
 
Barihunk Ryan McKinny (left) and tenor Paul Appleby in Girls of the Golden West
His latest opera, "Girls of the Golden West," premiered at the San Francisco Opera on November 21, 2017 to decidedly mixed reviews. The cast included the barihunk trio of Ryan McKinny, Elliot Madore and Davone Tines and, like many of Adams' pieces, dealt with a slice of actual history. 
 
A number of his pieces have leading roles for baritones, including J. Robert Oppenheimer in Dr. Atomic, Nixon in Nixon in China and the critical roles of the captain, terrorist (Rambo) and Klinghoffer in The Death of Klinghoffer. His oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary was written for tenor, soprano, mezzo-soprano and three countertenors!

Thomas Hampson sings a selection from The Wound-Dresser:
 
 
He also wrote the Walt Whitman-inspired piece The Wound-Dresser, which is scored for baritone voice, 2 flutes (or 2 piccolos), 2 oboes, clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpet (or piccolo tpt), timpani, synthesizer, and strings.
 
Upcoming performance of operas by John Adams include Nixon in China at the Mainfranken Theater W├╝rzburg in May/June 2018 and Dr. Atomic at the Santa Fe Opera in July/August 2018 with Ryan McKinny and Daniel Okulitch.  
 
 

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