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THE '80s A Special Report : TASTE MAKERS : Presenting the big players and major ideas that--for better or worse--shaped the 1980s. This is Calendar's fifth annual Taste Makers report, expanded this time to cover the last 10 years in the following categories: Show Business Execs, Film Producers, Film Directors and Writers, Stage, TV, Music, Dance, Pop Music, Jazz, Comedy, Radio, Art and Restaurants. : MUSIC : JOHN ADAMS

December 24, 1989|JOHN HENKEN

When the decade began, John Adams was a little-known, cheerfully earnest apostate from Eastern musical academia, based in San Francisco. There his relationship with the San Francisco Symphony--the highly influential model for the Meet the Composer residencies--blossomed with the premiere of "Harmonium" in 1981.

John Adams' 1981 "Harmonium" and subsequent pieces made the American orchestral rounds in the early '80s, as well as in Europe and Japan, and established Adams' at the top of the popular minimalist line.

Then came "Nixon in China," an opera/event three years in the making and seemingly almost as long in the hyping. Soon after the premiere in 1987, Adams was at work with librettist Alice Goodman and director Peter Sellars on a successor based on the Achille Lauro hijacking, "The Death of Klinghoffer," scheduled to premiere in Brussels in 1991.

Sellars' stagings and the potentially controversial subjects have spurred some of the scrutiny devoted to Adams' opera projects, but his music has sustained the attention. Though basically as consistently consonant and metronomic as other expressions of the user-friendly minimalist approach, Adams' music supports lyric reverie as easily as motor impulses, and exults in sophisticated permutations.

Success has its own influence. Like Philip Glass and Steve Reich, Adams has made making music pay, and perhaps the most seductive feature of their achievements for younger composers is the heady suggestion that there is life off campus.

Unlike Glass and Reich, Adams does not tour with his own band, like a pop group. Instead, the 42-year-old composer can often be found leading major conventional orchestras. All three have received finanical support from the music establishment, but Adams is more of the insider and his influence is more directly felt by traditional audiences.

The Taste Makers project was edited by David Fox, assistant Sunday Calendar editor.

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