John Adams
John Adams | Credit: Musacchio, Ianniello & Pasqualini

His Antony and Cleopatra will open San Francisco Opera’s centennial season, he is in perpetual motion around the globe, and John Adams also celebrates turning 75 by having yet another “encyclopedic collection” of his compositions.

Adding to countless SFCV accounts of Adams’s oeuvre, here’s just one more on the occasion of Nonesuch Records publishing “John Adams Collected Works,” a 40-disc box set, on July 1.

The set features recordings spanning more than four decades of the composer’s career with the label, and it includes two extensive booklets containing new essays and notes by Timo Andres, Jake Wilder-Smith, Julia Bullock, and Robert Hurwitz.

Nonesuch made its first record with John Adams in 1985. He was signed exclusively to the label that year, and since then the company has released 42 first recordings and 31 all-Adams albums, of which six are full-length operas, oratorios, or staged theatrical presentations. Four of Adams’s Nonesuch records have won Grammy Awards, among other honors.

Nonesuch box set
The Nonesuch box set

Early in his career, Adams was composer-in-residence at the San Francisco Symphony (1982–1985) and creator of the orchestra’s “New and Unusual Music” series. Many of his landmark orchestral works were written for and premiered by the San Francisco Symphony, including Harmonium (1981), Grand Pianola Music (1982), Harmonielehre (1985), and Absolute Jest (2012).

Since 2009, Adams has held the position of creative chair with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he has been instrumental in the success of that orchestra’s “Green Umbrella” new-music series.

Among many European observances of Adams’s birthday, the Tonhalle-Orchestra Zürich had a two-month-long festival of his music, and Music Director Paavo Järvi said:

“John Adams is one of the great living composers and without doubt the leading figure in American music. Having him as our artist in focus is a great honor as he is one of the exceptional musicians alive today. As the Tonhalle is committed to tradition but also innovation, we need to keep our finger on the pulse of new music, and nobody is a greater representative of this than John Adams. He was one of the founding fathers of minimalism, but his music has now evolved and taken a new direction.”

John Adams and Eun Sun Kim
Composer John Adams and SF Opera Music Director Eun Sun Kim at an Antony and Cleopatra orchestra reading | Credit: Kristen Loken

This year, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam gave a pair of performances of Adams’s Violin Concerto with Leila Josefowicz as soloist and Susanna Mälkki conducting. Marin Alsop led Fearful Symmetries with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in Hamburg, and with the Iceland Symphony, Adams conducted Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? and Harmonielehre.

In the U.S., the Seattle Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Baltimore Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony with Esa-Pekka Salonen were among orchestras featuring Adams this year.

About the box set, Robert Hurwitz, Nonesuch’s former president and current chairman emeritus, said:

“John Adams coming to the label was one of the central events in our company’s history. The idea of a label recording all of the works of its most cherished composers had been long established in the classical record business, most notably the efforts of Columbia with Stravinsky, Decca with Britten, and Deutsche Grammophon with Stockhausen.

“With this box, Nonesuch and Adams are now added to that list.” However complete the box set is, Nonesuch left extra space in it for future recordings.

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