His works stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes. Works spanning more than three decades are among the most performed of all contemporary classical music, among them Harmonielehre, Shaker Loops, El Niño, the Chamber Symphony and The Dharma at Big Sur.
His stage works, all in collaboration with director Peter Sellars, have transformed the genre of contemporary music theatre. Of Adams’ best-known opera, the New Yorker wrote “Not since ‘Porgy and Bess’ has an American opera won such universal acclaim as ‘Nixon in China’.”
Nonesuch Records has recorded all of Adams’ music over the past three decades. The latest release is Scheherazade.2, Adams’ most recent work, a dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra written for Leila Josefowicz.
As conductor, Adams leads the world’s major orchestras in repertoire that ranges from Beethoven and Mozart to Stravinsky, Ives, Carter, Zappa, Glass and Ellington. Conducting engagements in recent and coming seasons include the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker, London Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Wiener Symphoniker and BBC Symphony, as well as the orchestras in Houston, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Seattle, Baltimore and Madrid.
In 2017 Adams celebrates his seventieth birthday with festivals of his music in Europe and the US, including special retrospectives at London’s Barbican, Cité de la Musique in Paris, and in Amsterdam, New York, Geneva, Stockholm, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Born and raised in New England, Adams learned the clarinet from his father and played in marching bands and community orchestras during his formative years. He began composing at age ten and his first orchestral pieces were performed while just a teenager.
Adams has received honorary doctorates from Yale, Harvard, Northwestern, Cambridge and The Juilliard School. A provocative writer, he is author of the highly acclaimed autobiography ‘Hallelujah Junction’ and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.
Adams is Creative Chair of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His new opera, Girls of the Golden West, an opera about the California Gold Rush, will premiere in November of 2017 in San Francisco.