John Adams Wins Pulitzer Prize in Music

Posted in News on April 10, 2003

BMI composer John Adams has been awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his orchestral work, On the Transmigration of Souls, a memorial to September 11. Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, the piece was intended, as Adams wrote in the program note, to create a “memory space” where “you can be alone with your thoughts and emotions.” Scored for orchestra, SATB chorus, children’s chorus and multi-channel sound design, this 24-minute work features a variety of taped sounds and textures, including laughter, screeching car brakes, text from missing-persons posters and cell-phone messages, and a recitation of names of World Trade Center victims.

Given “for distinguished musical composition of significant dimension by an American that has had its first performance in the United States during the year,” the Music Pulitzer—a $7,500 cash award and a certificate—will be presented at a luncheon honoring winners in all 21 categories in late May at Columbia University.

One of America’s most admired and frequently performed composers, Massachusetts native John Adams began his career teaching and conducting at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In 1978 he starting working with the San Francisco Symphony, and many of Adams’s most important works, including Harmonium, Harmonielehre, Grand Pianola Music and El Niño, have been commissioned and premiered by that orchestra.

In 1985 Adams began a collaboration with the poet Alice Goodman and stage director Peter Sellars that resulted in two operas, Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, worldwide performances of which made them among the most performed operas in recent history. A third stage work followed in 1995: I Was Looking At The Ceiling And Then I Saw The Sky, a ‘song play’ with libretto by the poet June Jordan. The Nativity oratorio El Niño, also in collaboration with Peter Sellars, premiered in 2000.

Among Adams’s recent works are Century Rolls (a piano concerto for Emanuel Ax), Naive & Sentimental Music, a 45-minute symphony for large orchestra, and Guide To Strange Places, for orchestra, introduced in Amsterdam and London with the composer conducting. The San Francisco Symphony has engaged Adams for a 10-year commissioning project; the first work, “My Father Knew Charles Ives,” was written for conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, who will lead the world premiere on April 30 at Davies Symphony Hall. San Francisco Opera has also announced a commission for Adams, scheduled for production in 2005, based on the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb.

The composer has earned numerous honors, among them the 1994 Royal Philharmonic Society Award for his Chamber Symphony and the 1995 Grawemeyer Award for his Violin Concerto. Large-scale festivals of Adams’s music have taken place at London Barbican Center and Lincoln Center in New York, with a Rotterdam festival scheduled for March 2004. Adams is also one of the most recorded of all living composers; since 1995 virtually all of his music has been recorded by Nonesuch, and much of it is available on the ten-CD set “The John Adams Earbox.” He continues to conduct regularly, appearing with the world’s greatest orchestras, and with programs combining his own works with composers as diverse as Debussy, Stravinsky, Ravel, ves, Glass and Ellington. In recent seasons he has conducted the Chicago Symphony and San Francisco Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cleveland, Philadelphia and Detroit Orchestras, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Montreal Symphony. European engagements have included performances with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, London Symphony Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin.

Later this year, Adams will succeed Pierre Boulez as Composer in Residence at Carnegie Hall. For more information on John Adams, visit


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