John Luther Adams

USA Ford Fellow, 2006

"One of the most original musical thinkers of the new century…" – Alex Ross, The New Yorker From his home in Alaska, John Luther Adams has created a unique musical world grounded in wilderness landscapes and indigenous cultures, and in natural phenomena from the songs of birds to elemental noise. Adams' music includes works for orchestra, small ensembles, percussion and electronic media, and is recorded on New World, Cold Blue, Cantaloupe, Mode, and New Albion. Adams is the author of the book Winter Music (Wesleyan 2004). His sound and light environment The Place Where You Go to Listen is a long-term exhibition at the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the subject of his second book (Wesleyan 2009). In 2006 Adams was named one of the first United States Artists Fellows. He has also received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Born in 1953, Adams grew up in the South and in the suburbs of New York City. He studied composition with James Tenney and Leonard Stein at the California Institute of the Arts, where he was in the first graduating class (BFA 1973). In the mid 1970s he became active in the campaign for the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and subsequently served as executive director of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. Adams has worked with many prominent performers and venues, including the Chicago Symphony, the California EAR Unit, Bang On A Can, Percussion Group Cincinnati, Other Minds, the Sundance Institute, Almeida Opera, and the Radio Netherlands Philharmonic. He has been composer in residence with the Anchorage Symphony, Anchorage Opera, Fairbanks Symphony, Arctic Chamber Orchestra, and the Alaska Public Radio Network, and served as president of the American Music Center. He has taught at the University of Alaska, Bennington College and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Portrait photo courtesy Dennis Keeley
Winter Music: Composing the North, 2004; photo courtesy Wesleyan University Press

Awards & Recognitions

  • Foundation for Contemporary Arts, 1993
  • AK State Council on the Arts, 1980/1986/2002
  • National Endowment for the Arts, 1974/1990/1994
  • Rasmuson Distinguished Artist 2010