The Creative Class: A Conversation with John Adams, Composer & Conductor, Moderated by Deborah Borda


Thursday, December 3, 2015, 5:30pm


Allison Dining Room, Harvard Kennedy School
Presented by: Center for Public Leadership – Harvard Kennedy School

Free; Refreshments providedRSVP required. Open to the Harvard community.

The current Creative Chair of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, John Adams is one of world's preeminent and most-performed contemporary composers. His works have been celebrated by every major orchestra in the United States as well as orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, and Australia; his historical and politically-rooted operas, including The Death of Klinghoffer and Nixon in China are among the most controversial and frequently-produced of any living composer.

Los Angles Philharmonic President and CEO Deborah Borda moderates a conversation in which Mr. Adams discusses his work and creative process.


Composer, conductor and creative thinker John Adams was born and raised in New England. He 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 heard his first orchestral pieces performed while still a teenager. After graduating from Harvard, he moved in 1971 to the San Francisco Bay area where he has lived ever since. Adams’ orchestral scores are among the most frequently performed and influential compositions by an American since the era of Copland and Bernstein.
Works such as Shaker Loops, Harmonielehre, Short Ride in a Fast Machine and his Violin Concerto are by now staples of the symphonic repertoire. His operas and oratorios including Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, El Niño and Doctor Atomic, many with themes drawn from recent American history, have made a significant impact on the course of contemporary opera and are among the most produced by any living composer.
Among his recent works are the Passion oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary, Absolute Jest (for string quartet and orchestra, based on fragments of Beethoven) and the new Saxophone Concerto, written for soloist Tim McAllister. In March of this year Leila Josefowicz introduces Scheherazade.2, a “dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra” with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.
Adams has received honorary doctorates from Yale and Harvard, as well as from Cambridge University in England and from the Juilliard School. On the Transmigration of Souls, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11, received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Music.
John Adams is a much sought-after conductor, appearing with the world’s major orchestras in programs combining his own works with a wide variety of repertoire ranging from Beethoven and Mozart to Ives, Carter, Zappa, Glass and Ellington. He has been guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the orchestras of Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Seattle, London and Philadelphia. He is currently Creative Chair of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. John Adams is also a highly esteemed and provocative writer. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and has written for The New Yorker and The London Times. Hallelujah Junction, his much praised volume of memoirs and commentary on American musical life, was named one of “the most notable books of 2008” by the New York Times.