When John Adams became John Adams

When John Adams became John Adams

Album Of The Week

norman lebrecht

August 12, 2022

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

When did John Adams become John Adams? Around 1995, according to his own narrative, when he broke with repetitive minimalism and found a more variegated expression. The turning point…

Read on here.

And here.

En francais ici.


  • Larry W says:

    Preceding “The Death of Klinghoffer” by four years was “Nixon in China.” Most of us performing the 1987 world premiere for Houston Grand Opera had the feeling that we were part of musical history. But not all. Our concertmaster, a highly respected musician of age, told John Adams during a rehearsal: “I don’t know whether to shake your hand or punch you in the mouth.”

    Nicolas Slonimsky is perhaps best known for his “Lexicon of Musical Invective,” but he had far-reaching influence with his “Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns.” It was a musical bible for jazz great John Coltrane, among others.

    • Adista says:

      Adams is the closest the US has to an establishment, state sponsored composer. Time will tell how much of his output enters/remains in the rep. My guess is…not much.

    • Robert says:

      I think you were a part of music history. Nixon will be part of the standard opera repertory, deservedly so. Why anyone would want to punch Adams in the mouth, I can’t understand–some people are unrepentant curmudgeons, especially when it comes to classical music.

  • John Porter says:

    Funny, I liked his minimalist oriented music much better. I will take Nixon over the later works, which sound to me a bit like warmed over Richard Strauss. And, naturally, it was that minimalist style that put him on the map.

  • caranome says:

    His “repetitive minimalism” is basically “ding ding dong dong ding ding dong dong” and variations for 2 hours. He is one of the most celebrated living composers, praised by critics, academics et al with their out of touch gobblygook that no normal person understands. If this is considered the apotheosis of modern music, it has no future.

    • Ragnar Danneskjoeld says:

      It may sound “ding ding dong dong ding ding dong dong” to you – but I’ve never heard “ding ding dong dong ding ding dong dong” sound better. Especially when it’s played together with the lyrics of “Batter my heart”.

      • caranome says:

        But why do u want to pay good money and waste 2 hours listening to “ding ding dong dong ding ding dong dong”?

  • Conductora says:

    John Adams is a weak conductor. Vanessa Benelli Mosell is far superior conductor over John Adams. She can conduct his music far better than he can.

  • M2N2K says:

    In this instance the composer is correct – his music written after 1995 is more interesting and better overall than his earlier compositions.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    I’m reminded of how Penderecki explained his shift in later life to more tonal methods… he was just doing the avant-garde stuff to make a name for himself!