John Luther Adams
John Luther Adams (born January 23, 1953) is an American composer whose music is inspired by nature, especially the landscapes of Alaska where he lived from 1978 to 2014 (Garland 2007). His orchestral work Become Ocean was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music (Huizenga 2014).
Born in Meridian, Mississippi, Adams began playing music as a teenager as a drummer in rock bands. He attended Cal Arts as an undergraduate in the early 1970s, where he studied with James Tenney and Leonard Stein, and graduated in 1973 (Kosman 2001). After graduating from the California Institute of the Arts, Adams began work in environmental protection and through this work Adams first travelled to Alaska in 1975. Adams moved to Alaska in 1978 and lived there until 2014. He now lives between New York and the Sonoran desert in Mexico (Service 2015). It continues to be a prominent influence in his music (Garland 2007). From 1982 to 1989, he performed as timpanist and principal percussionist with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra and the Arctic Chamber Orchestra (Kosman 2001)
Adams's composition work spans many genres and media. He has composed for television, film, children's theater, voice, acoustic instruments, orchestra, and electronics. From 1998 to 2002, Adams served as Associate Professor of Composition at Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
Influence of nature
Adams has described his music as, "[...] profoundly influenced by the natural world and a strong sense of place. Through sustained listening to the subtle resonances of the northern soundscape, I hope to explore the territory of sonic geography—that region between place and culture...between environment and imagination" (Anon. n.d.(b)).
His love of nature, concern for the environment and interest in the resonance of specific places led him to pursue the concept of sonic geography. Early examples of this idea include two works written during Adams’s sojourn in rural Georgia: Songbirdsongs (1974–80), a collection of indeterminate miniature pieces for piccolos and percussion based on free translations of bird songs, and Night Peace (1977), a vocal work capturing the nocturnal soundscape of the Okefenokee Swamp through slow-changing and sparse sonic textures (Feisst 2013).
His work, Sila: The Breath of the World, represents the "air element," following the representation of water in Become Ocean and the "earth element" in Inuksuit, an outdoor percussion piece (Patner 2012). His music, he says, is "our awareness of the world in which we live and the world's awareness of us" (Friedman 2014).
His more recent works include, Across the Distance, for a large number of horns, was premiered on the 5th of July, 2015 at the Cambo estate in Fife, Scotland as part of the East Neuk Festival. His recording of Ilimaq ("spirit journeys"), a solo work for percussion, played by art-music percussionist, composer, and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, was released in October 2015 (Clements 2015). A combination of contemporary classical music, Alaskan field recordings, and found sounds from the natural world, it evokes the travels of a shaman riding the sound of a drum to and from the spirit world (Sigler 2012).
Awards and honors
In 2014 Adams won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his orchestral piece Become Ocean, which Alex Ross of The New Yorker called "the loveliest apocalypse in musical history" (Ross 2013, ). It was premiered in 2013 by Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony and performed by the same conductor and orchestra at the 2014 Spring For Music music festival at Carnegie Hall. Adams had never been to Carnegie Hall before hearing his work played there to a sold-out house (Fonseca-Wollheim 2014). The surround-sound recording of Become Ocean on Cantaloupe Music debuted at #1 on the Billboard Traditional Classical Chart, stayed there for two straight weeks, and went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition (Davis and Adams 2014). All his works are published by Taiga Press (BMI) and available from Theodore Front Musical Literature (n.d.)
In October 2015, Adams received the William Schuman Award from Columbia University. The events surrounding the award included a series of concerts of his music at the Miller Theater, including Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing, For Lou Harrison, and In the White Silence (Oestreich 2015).
- On February 8, 2015, Adams was awarded a GRAMMY in the category Best Contemporary Classical Composition for his Become Ocean
- In November 2014, Adams was named the Musical America 2015 Composer of the Year (NewMusicBox Staff 2014).
- Adams was the recipient of the 2010 Nemmers Prize in Music Composition. He was cited by the selection committee for melding the physical and musical worlds into a unique artistic vision that transcends stylistic boundaries (Moore 2010)
- The Callithumpian Consort's recording of Adams' Four Thousand Holes was noted as one of The New Yorker's Best Classical Recordings of 2011 (Ross 2011).
- In 2012, he received the Heinz Award (Anon. n.d.(c)).
- In 2006, Adams was named one of the first United States Artists Fellows. He has received awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation, and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (Garland 2007).
- Adams received a 1993 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award (Anon. n.d.(a))
List of works
- Green Corn Dance (1974) for percussion ensemble
- Night Peace (1976) for antiphonal choirs, solo soprano, harp, and percussion
- songbirdsongs (1974–80) for 2 piccolos and 3 percussion
- Strange Birds Passing (1983) for flute choir
- up into the silence (1978/84) (poem by E. E. Cummings) for voice and piano
- How the Sun Came to the Forest (1984) (poem by John Haines) for chorus and alto flute, English horn, percussion, harp, and strings
- The Far Country of Sleep (1988) for orchestra
- Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping With His Daughter, Coyote Builds North America (1986–90) for theater
- magic song for one who wishes to live and the dead who climb up to the sky (1990) for voice and piano
- Dream in White-on-White (1992) for orchestra
- Earth and the Great Weather (1990–93) for theater, libretto published in the book "Inukshuk" edited by ARBOS – Company for Music & Theater, Vienna 1999, ISBN 3-85266-126-9
- Five Yup'ik Dances (1991–94) for solo harp
- Crow and Weasel (1993–94) (story by Barry Lopez) for theater
- Sauyatugvik: the Time of Drumming (1995) for orchestra
- Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing (1991–95) for orchestra
- Sauyatugvik: The Time of Drumming (1996) version for 2 pianos, timpani, and 4 percussion
- Five Athabascan Dances (1992/96) for harp and percussion
- Strange and Sacred Noise (1991–97) for percussion quartet
- Make Prayers to the Raven (1996/98) flute, violin, harp, cello, and percussion
- In the White Silence (1998) for orchestra
- Qilyaun (1998) for four bass drums
- Time Undisturbed (1999) for 3 shakuhachis, 3 kotos, and shō
- In a Treeless Place, Only Snow (1999) for celesta, harp, 2 vibraphones, and string quartet
- The Light That Fills the World (1999–2000) for orchestra
- Among Red Mountains (2001) for solo piano
- The Immeasurable Space of Tones (1998–2001) for violin, vibraphone, piano, sustaining keyboard, contrabass instrument
- The Farthest Place (2001) for violin, vibraphone, marimba, piano, double bass
- After the Light (2001) for alto flute, vibraphone, harp
- Dark Wind (2001) for bass clarinet, vibraphone, marimba, piano
- Red Arc/Blue Veil (2002) for piano, mallet percussion, and processed sounds
- The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies (2002) for solo percussion and processed sounds
- Poem of the Forgotten (2004) (poem by John Haines) for voice and piano
- for Lou Harrison (2004, premiere 2005) for string quartet, string orchestra, and 2 pianos
- ...and bells remembered... (2005) for bowed crotales, orchestra bells, chimes, vibraphone and bowed vibraphone
- for Jim (rising) (2006) for three trumpets and three trombones
- Always Very Soft (2007) for percussion trio
- Dark Waves (2007) for orchestra and electronic sounds
- Little Cosmic Dust Poem (2007) for voice (medium) and piano
- Nunataks (Solitary Peaks) (2007) for solo piano
- Three High Places (2007) for solo violin
- The Light Within (2007) for alto flute, bass clarinet, vibraphone/crotales, piano, violin, cello and electronic sounds
- Sky with Four Suns and Sky with Four Moons (2008) for four choirs
- the place we began (2008) four electro-acoustic soundscapes
- Inuksuit (2009) for nine to ninety-nine percussion
- Four Thousand Holes (2010) for piano, percussion, and electronic sounds
- The Wind in High Places (2011) for string quartet
- I L I M A Q (2012), a drum-kit opera, premiered at the University of Texas at Austin, performed by Glenn Kotche
- Become Ocean (2013) for orchestra, premiered at the Seattle Symphony, June 20, 2013, conducted by Ludovic Morlot
- Become River (2013) for chamber orchestra, premiered by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, April 3, 2014, conducted by Steven Schick
- Ten Thousand Birds (2014) for chamber orchestra, premiered by Alarm Will Sound, October 19, 2014 (Smith 2014)
- Sila: The Breath of the World (2014) for choir, percussion, strings, brass, and woodwinds premiered at the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, July 25, 2014, led by Doug Perkins
- Across the Distance (2015) for French Horn, premiered at the East Neuk Festival at the Cambo estate, July 5, 2015, led by Alec Frank-Gemmil (Molleson 2015).
- songbirdsongs (1981) [LP]
- A Northern Suite/Night Peace (1983) [LP]
- Forest Without Leaves (1987) [LP]
- The Far Country (1993)
- Dream in White on White
- Night Peace
- The Far Country of Sleep
- Earth and the Great Weather (1995)
- Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing (1997) – nominated for the 1999 Grammy Award in the Best Classical Contemporary Composition and Best Orchestral Performance categories
- Dark Wind (2002)
- The Light That Fills the World (2002)
- The Farthest Place
- The Light That Fills the World
- The Immeasurable Space of Tones
- In the White Silence (2003)
- Strange and Sacred Noise (2005)
- The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies (2006)
- for Lou Harrison (2007)
- red arc/blue veil (2007)
- Dark Waves
- Among Red Mountains
- red arc/blue veil
- The Place We Began (2009) – appears on 2009's Best (Mostly) 'New Music', from WNYC
- Four Thousand Holes (2011)
- Four Thousand Holes
- . . . and bells remembered . . .
- songbirdsongs (2012)
- Strange Birds Passing
- Inuksuit (2013). So Percussion Ensemble, Doug Perkins (cond.). CD and DVD recording. Cantaloupe Music [no catalog number].
- Become Ocean (2014). Seattle Symphony; Ludovic Morlot, conductor, Cantaloupe Music CA 21101 (Adams 2014)
- The Wind In High Places (2015) (Adams 2015)
- Ilimaq (2015) Glenn Kotche, Cantaloupe Music
- The Place Where You Go To Listen – In Search of an Ecology of Music (Wesleyan University Press, 2009)
- "The Immeasurable Space of Tones," Musicworks 91 (Spring, 2005)
- "Sonic Geography Alaska," Musicworks 93 (Fall, 2005)
- "Winter Music: Composing the North", (Wesleyan University Press, 2004)
- "Global Warming and Art", Orion (September – October, 2003)
- "Global Warming and Art", Musicworks 86 (Summer, 2003)
- "Winter Music. A Composer's Journal", In The Best Spiritual Writing 2002 (Harper Collins, 2002)
- "Winter Music. A Composer's Journal", Musicworks 82 (February, 2002)
- "The Place Where You Go to Listen", In The Book of Music and Nature (Wesleyan University Press, 2000) pp. 181–182.
- "Winter Music. A Composer's Journal", In Reflections on American Music (Pendragon Press, 2000) pp. 31–48.
- "Strange and Sacred Noise", Yearbook of Soundscape Studies (Vol. 1: "Northern Soundscapes," ed. R. Murray Schafer and Helmi Järviluoma, 1998), pp. 143–146.
- "The Place Where You Go to Listen", Terra Nova, 2/3, 1997, pp. 15–16.
- "From the Ground Up", The Utne Reader, March/April, 1995, p. 86.
- "Resonance of Place, Confessions of an Out-of-Town Composer", The North American Review, January/February, 1994, pp. 8–18.
- Adams, John Luther. 2004. Winter Music: Composing the North. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0-8195-6742-6.
- Adams, John Luther. 2009. The Place Where You Go to Listen: In Search of an Ecology of Music. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0-8195-6903-5.
- Adams, John Luther. 2014. "On Become Ocean". Cantaloupe Music website (retrieved 19 September 2014).
- Alburger, Mark. 2000. "A to Z: Interviews with John Luther Adams". 21st-Century Music 7, no. 1 (January): 1–12.
- Anon. n.d. "John Luther Adams". Deep Listening Institute. Retrieved Dec 21, 2010.
- Anon. n.d.(b). "1990s Grants to Individuals". Foundation for Contemporary Arts (archive from April 2, 2015, accessed April 30, 2016).
- Anon. n.d.(c) "The Heinz Awards: John Luther Adams". The Heinz Awards website (accessed August 26, 2016).
- Clements, Andrew. 2015. "Adams: Ilimaq review – work of great power and surprising stark beauty". The Guardian (November 18). Retrieved 19 June 2016.
- Cooper, Michael. 2015. "John Luther Adams Wins William Schuman Award" [alternate title: "John Luther Adams Wins a Lifetime Achievement Award"]. New York Times (January 9): C2.
- Davis, Helga, and John Luther Adams. 2014. "Watch Live: Become Ocean Listening Party with John Luther Adams". New York: WQXR Radio (8 September). Retrieved 8 September 2014.
- Feisst, Sabine. n.d. "Adams, John Luther." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 21, 2014. (subscription required)
- Feisst, Sabine. 2001. "Klanggeographie–Klanggeometrie: Der US-amerikanische Komponist John Luther Adams". MusikTexte: Zeitschrift für Neue Musik, no. 91 (November): 4–13.
- Feisst, Sabine. 2013..
- Fonseca-Wollheim, Corinna da. 2014. "A Composer Attuned to the Earth's Swirling Motion: A New York Premiere for John Luther Adams's 'Become Ocean'". The New York Times (6 May): C1.
- Friedman, Lisa. 2014. "Wilderness Campaigner's Obsession with 'Place' Led to Symphony about Climate Change". ClimateWire (13 May). (Retrieved 8 September 2014).
- Gann, Kyle. 1997. American Music in the Twentieth Century. New York: Schirmer Books; London: Prentice Hall International. ISBN 0-02-864655-X.
- Garland, Peter. 2007. "John Luther Adams". Liner notes to John Luther Adams – For Lou Harrison. New World Records.
- Herzogenrath, Bernd (ed). 2012. The Farthest Place. The Music of John Luther Adams. Northeastern University Press.
- Huizenga, Tom. 2014. "Alaskan Composer Wins Pulitzer for 'Become Ocean'". Deceptive Cadence, from NPR Classical. NPR.org (14 April).
- Kosman, Joshua. 2001. "Adams, John Luther". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Molleson, Kate. 2015. "Across the Distance review – serene and persuasive". The Guardian (July 7). Retrieved 19 June 2016.
- Moore, Judy. 2010. "John Luther Adams Wins Nemmers Composition Prize", Northwestern University website (April 29).
- Morris, Mitchell. 1999. "Ecotopian Sounds, or, The Music of Luther Adams and Strong Environmentalism". In Crosscurrents and Counterpoints: Offerings in Honor of Bengt Hambræus at 70, edited by Per F. Broman, Nora A. Engebretsen, and Bo Alphonce. 129–41. Skrifter från Musikvetenskapliga Avdelningen 51. Göteborg: Göteborgs Universitet. ISBN 91-85974-45-5.
- NewMusicBox Staff. 2014. "John Luther Adams Named Musical America's 201 Composer of the Year". NewMusicBox (November 5, accessed November 15, 2014).
- Oestreich, James R. 2015. "Review: John Luther Adams, Lauded and Played at Columbia". New York Times (September 24). Retrieved 19 June 2016.
- "Patner, Andrew. 2012. "As Rain Enhances a Percussion Premiere, Hundreds Soak It All In". Chicago Sun-Times (26 August). Retrieved 8 September 2014.
- Pulitzer Prize.org. 2014. Press release.
- Ross, Alex. 2008. "Letter from Alaska: Song of the Earth: A Composer Takes Inspiration from the Arctic", The New Yorker 84, no. 13 (May 12, 2008): 76–81.
- Ross, Alex. 2011. "The Best Classical Music Recordings of 2011". The New Yorker (December 6): .
- Ross, Alex. 2013. "Water Music: John Luther Adams's Become Ocean at the Seattle Symphony". The New Yorker (8 July): (accessed 8 September 2014).
- Service, Tom. 2015. "John Luther Adams: A Force of Nature". The Guardian (2 July) (accessed 3 October 2016).
- Sigler, Andrew. 2012 "John Luther Adams and Glenn Kotche Go on Spirit Jurneys with Ilimaq". New Music Box (December 7). Retrieved March 7, 2016.
- Smith, Erica. 2014. "Alarm Will Sound Premiering Two Pieces In St. Louis This Weekend"". St. Louis Public Radio website (October 17).
- Theodore Front Musical Literature. n.d.. 2014. "Search Results for John Luther Adams". Santa Clarita, CA: Theodore Front Musical Literature Inc. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
- Young, Gayle. 1998. "Sonic Geography of the Arctic: An Interview with John Luther Adams". Musicworks: Explorations in Sound, no. 70 (Spring): 38–43.
- Official website
- John Luther Adams's Recordings on Cantaloupe Music
- Cold Blue Music: John Luther Adams
- Video: John Luther Adams's 'Inuksuit'
- NonPop Show 006 – "The Place" interview
- Sila on YouTube, complete performance, Lincoln Center