John Luther Adams

John Luther Adams was born on January 23, 1953 in Meridian, Mississippi. A drummer in rock bands as a teenager, Adams later graduated from Cal Arts in 1973. His first work in environmental protection brought him to Alaska in 1975. His profound love for the wide-open spaces there prompted him to stay in Alaska from 1978 where he remained in residence until 2014. Adams performed as timpanist and principal percussionist with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra as well as the Arctic Chamber Orchestra from 1982 to 1989. He served as Associate Professor of Composition at Oberlin Conservatory of Music from 1998 t0 2002.

Adams composes music for television, film, children’s theater, voice, acoustic instruments, orchestra, and electronics. Much of Adams’ work is inspired by nature.  His compositions echo the vast, open landscapes of Alaska and the Far North. He does not attempt to represent nature through music. Rather, Adams ‘creates tonal territories which resonate with nature – immersive listening experiences that evoke limitless distance, suspended time, deep longing, and even transcendence.’ (Bernd Herzogenrath)

In harmony with the philosopher Giles Deleuze, Adams believes there are echoes and resonances between the arts, sciences, and philosophy. According to Deleuze:

Whereas science involves the creation of functions, of a propositional mapping of the world (and universe), and art involves the creation of blocks of sensation (of affects and precepts), philosophy involves the invention of concepts. Delleuze believes art, philosophy, and science are defined by their relation to chaos. Whereas science ‘relinquishes the infinite in order to gain reference,’ by creating definitions, functions, and propositions, art ‘wants to create the finite that restores the infinite,’ in contrast, ‘philosophy wants to save the infinite by giving it consistency.’  

‘Even as they augment our understanding, science and art heighten our sense of wonder at the strange beauty, astonishing complexity, and miraculous unity of creation.’ (John Luther Adams)

Nearly forty years ago, Adams began his sonic explorations of nature with his ‘translations’ of bird songs within open-ended musical soundscapes. In his opera Earth and the Great Weather, Adams weaves:

“recordings of wind across the tundra, ice melting, thunder and glaciers booming, with ritual drumming, ethereal music for strings, and chanting of Alaskan native people into a journey through the physical, cultural and spiritual landscapes of the Arctic.” (Bernd Herzogenrath)

John Luther Adams has expressed his unique musical vision in a diverse body of work which goes beyond compositions and sound recordings to include theatrical performances, sound and light productions, as well as print and web publications. Most recently, he creates music utilizing unified ‘fields’ of harmony and timbre. Adams avoids overt melodies or instrumental elements which are easily delineated to create these fields.

In 2010, Adams was awarded the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition ‘for melding the physical and musical worlds into a unique artistic vision that transcends stylistic boundaries.’

Adams was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2014 for his orchestral work Become Ocean.

In November 2014, Adams was named the Musical America Composer of the Year.

In February 2015, Adams was awarded a GRAMMY in the category Best Contemporary Classical Composition for his Become Ocean.

Become Ocean
Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Ludovic Morlot, conductor
Cantelloupe CA21101
42 minutes


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