John Adams (1947-)

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Episodes

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01West Coast20120903

John Adams tells Donald Macleod about his decision to move to the West Coast of America.

Donald Macleod talks this week to America's most frequently performed living composer, John Adams, about his work. In today's programme they look at pieces influenced by life on the West Coast, from one of his earliest works, Shaker Loops, written in a beach house in San Francisco, to a symphony written in his current studio in the mountains, surrounded by giant redwoods. Adams discusses his reasons for setting out on a journey west, in an unreliable Volkswagen Beetle, from Harvard to California in 1971, and what kept him there - from the dramatic coastline to the cultural life he found there.

02My Father's Song20120904

John Adams's father taught him clarinet and they played together in a local marching band. He mastered the instrument 'almost too quickly', and while studying at Harvard he found work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Elements of his upbringing were reminiscent of Charles Ives's, who also grew up in New England. Today, Adams talks to Donald Macleod about the influence of Ives on his music, including two works which reference his early life, and a work for choir, orchestra and pre-recorded sounds - On the Transmigration of Souls - written to commemorate the victims of September 11, 2001. Initally uneasy about writing a work in which he was called on to address national mourning, here too he drew inspiration from Ives's work, this time the The Unanswered Question, which Adams describes as a 'quiet spirit behind the piece'.

John Adams talks to Donald Macleod about the influence of Charles Ives on his music.

03From Ellington To Schoenberg20120905

Donald Macleod explores John Adams's works written on a smaller canvas.

Before John Adams conducts his opera Nixon In China this evening at the Proms, today's programme explores his works that were written on a more intimate scale. In conversation with the composer, Donald Macleod looks at a 'virtuoso monstrosity' - the sequel to his Chamber Symphony, one of his earliest pieces for tape and strings, and his recent string quartet. They discuss the traces of Schoenberg, Ives and even Duke Ellington that can be heard in Adams's music.

04Wide Open Spaces20120906

Donald Macleod's guest this week, John Adams, has said of his music that 'in a sense, all of my pieces are travel pieces - it's the way I experience musical form'. Today, the composer talks about some of his journeys in sound, about comparisons that have been made between himself and Copland, and about the health of American contemporary music. And we hear a piece named after an actual truck stop high up in the Sierra Nevada in California: Hallelujah Junction.

Donald Macleod on John Adams's music inspired by travelling through the American landscape

05 LASTStage Works20120907

John Adams talks to Donald Macleod about some of his stage works.

John Adams is perhaps best known for his operas, which are usually based on topical events and real people, and some of which have sparked controversy. In the last of this week's programmes, Adams talks to Donald Macleod about his stage works. He discusses his feelings about the furore over the first performances of The Death of Klinghoffer more than 20 years ago, the kind of subjects he considers suitable for operatic treatment, and whether he will write another one.