John Adams: Celebrating 70 Years

Throughout the month of February, the San Francisco Symphony honors John Adams, one of America's most admired and respected composers, celebrating his 70th birthday with a special three-week fete of his music. “John Adams: Celebrating 70 Years” features a wide assortment of performances and productions spanning his career.

Arrive one hour early before every Davies Symphony Hall performance (excluding February 25) for a pre-concert talk with Adams. He will be joined by scholars Laura Stanfield Prichard, Sarah Cahill, and Alexandra Amati-Camperi for a group discussion focusing on his compositions performed on the program.

On February 10-11, Adams serves as the curator for SoundBox with an eclectic program featuring his own works along with selections from Andrew Norman, Jacob Cooper, and Ashley Fure.

Young girlThe Gospel According to the Other Mary
The following week, February 16–18, Grant Gershon conducts the Symphony’s first performance of Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, featuring mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor in the role of Mary Magdalene and tenor Jay Hunter Morris as Lazarus.

Leila Josefowicz and John AdamsScheherazade.2
Finally, on February 22–25, Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in their debut performance of Adams' Scheherazade.2, a dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra performed by violinist Leila Josefowicz, for whom the work was written.

Adams on his history with the SFS and his featured works
"I have a long mental list of 'peak moments' with the Symphony, some of them involving the jittery angst of recording sessions; or of the chaotic hilarity of conducting a John Cage evening; or the immense satisfaction of hearing MTT’s brilliant performances of 'Absolute Jest.' [. . .] Most of all I remember the enthusiasm of the players, their warm friendship and willingness to try to make sense of every note I’d written."

Bringing It All Back Home: John Adams at 70
The San Francisco Symphony is justly proud of its long-term relationship with the eminent composer and Bay Area resident John Adams, which dates back nearly forty years: It began in 1978 with Adams’s appointment as an SFS new music adviser, and soon blossomed into his first major opportunities to write for orchestra and chorus and an ongoing series of innovative commissions. Adams has since been a significant international presence, and his music is being celebrated around the world with special fervor this season in honor of his 70th birthday. For the big occasion itself, Adams returns home and fills the SFS bill with three separate programs this month. Contributing Writer Thomas May looks back at the composer’s rich history with the SFS.

John Adams’ creative partnership with the San Francisco Symphony has been extraordinarily productive, extending more than 35 years. In 1979, Adams was appointed contemporary music advisor to the SFS and served as the composer-in-residence from 1982-1985, a tenure which helped set the precedent for composer residencies around the world. Since 1981 the SFS has performed 29 of his works, seven of which were SFS commissions. Among his landmark orchestral works written for and premiered by the SFS are Harmonium (1981), Grand Pianola Music (1982), Harmonielehre (1985), My Father Knew Charles Ives (2003) and Absolute Jest (2012). SFS Media’s recording of Adams’s Harmonielehre and Short Ride in a Fast Machine, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas won a 2012 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance. In 2015, SFS Media released a recording of Adams’s Absolute Jest and Grand Pianola Music, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas and John Adams.

“The San Francisco Symphony’s special relationship with John Adams has been incredibly fruitful,” stated Michael Tilson Thomas. “John’s emergence as a composer has been an important part of our orchestra’s history and emergence on the international scene. I’ve always enjoyed conducting his vital music, and look forward to celebrating John and his music this year.”