John Adams is 150,000 Euros richer

John Adams is 150,000 Euros richer


norman lebrecht

February 22, 2019

message received:
The Praemium Erasmianum Foundation has awarded the 2019 Erasmus Prize to the American composer and conductor John Adams … Adams often addresses social themes in his work, something he sees as the artist’s duty. What distinguishes him furthermore, is the humanistic nature of his themes. Adams is not just a great conductor and composer, he is also a writer who reflects on the social function of classical music. Thus, he calls attention both musically and intellectually to the importance of classical music in our time, reflecting the Erasmian principles that the Foundation seeks to uphold.

The Erasmus Prize consists of € 150,000 in prize money.



  • Sandalio says:

    I want some of it
    I want some of it
    I want some of it

    • Petros Linardos says:

      If you are a charity with a great cause, and on a shoestring budget, you should argue your case to John Adams.

  • We privatize your value says:

    And Leon Klinghoffer is still dead.

    • MWnyc says:

      And nothing’s going to bring him back.

      That opera, however, does keep his memory alive in the public’s consciousness. And his comeback to the terrorist’s rhapsodizing is the most badass passage in the whole piece.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Well done!! But the ‘social themes’ I can well do without.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    No he isn’t. He has a $150,000 increase in income before taxes. Moreover, he may donate some or all prize money, as many recipients do.

  • Brian says:

    An important composer deserving of accolades. But one wonders though if such money would have been better spent supporting an inner-city arts program. Or subsidizing concert tickets so that the less-affluent could attend one of Mr. Adams’ performances.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Music (serious art music, that is) is not a suitable tool for social engineering. Interestingly, Adams’ music is supposed to embody humanistic values, which would be an ethical element. But, however well-made the music of JA is, I never heard anything of the kind in it. In contrary, all the so-called ethical meanings are laid over it, from the outside, in the way an inviting label is glued on the bottle with may be holding a suspect wine, and the music could as well be used for the opposite type of values – corporate money mongering, totalitarian suppression, Trumpism, etc.

    The ethical element in music is located on a much deeper level than that, and remains always open to inapt interpretation (like Beethoven being exploited by the nazis). Music which, I think, has a serious ethical ‘message’, can be found in Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, some things by Wagner, Mahler, Shostakovich. In comparison, Adams is a brilliant, but slick and superficial talent, wrapping his music in fashionable political and social ideas, so the Erasmus Foundation is not really rewarding the wine but the label. It did not make any assessment of the music as music.

    But it has always been like that. Ethics are hardly ever on the surface, as musical quality never is, and most people prefer the gesture to the contents. Why is that? Because the contents demand a price to be paid, of a different kind than a financial reward.

    Is Adams really a superficial talent? His output is impressive, and some works brilliant. But I think he shows his true colours where he himself lets his music directly be compared with true mastery: in his ‘Son of Chamber Symphony’ he takes Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony as a ‘model’, and he says about that earlier work that what trikes him in it most is its virtuosic velocity, like the music in a Tom and Jerry cartoon film. And indeed, that is what he wrote himself: a piece in Tom and Jerry style, brilliant, but entirely superficial, mere gesture and no content. The Schoenberg piece however, is a culmination of expert symphonic writing where Beethoven’s thematic, motivic and tonal complexity is carried to an ultimate climax, it is a deeply moving work on the brink of catastrophe but held in precarious balance, depicting a musical and ethical (!) trajectory like a dangerous journey along an abyss but just managing to avoid disaster. All of that totally escaped Mr Adams who could only think of an American children cartoon. I think that says it all.