John Adams


Music and Opera

11th Edition

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Music and Opera category has gone in this eleventh edition to American composer John Adams, the author of music which, the citation states, “is genuinely of our time, and always has been, from the late 20th century into the 21st.”


The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Music and Opera goes, in this eleventh edition, to John Adams, who has established himself as a unique voice in contemporary music, creating a personal style based on the highest standards of musical and technical excellence, while communicating powerfully to a wide audience.

Even in works as early as Shaker Loops in the late 1970s that distinctive voice was emerging; more obviously in larger orchestral canvases in the 1980s – Harmonium, Grand Pianola Music and Harmonielehre – that now form part of the repertoire for orchestras worldwide.

There is something immediately recognizable about a John Adams composition, across all genres – solo, chamber, orchestral, opera and oratorio. It is a style that’s hard to define, but somehow “American,” often inflected with the jazz influences and rock and pop music of his youth.

With his first opera, Nixon in China, Adams pioneered a new kind of “docu-opera,” writing about events in living memory, and fearlessly addressing contemporary and controversial issues. This trajectory has continued with The Death of Klinghoffer, Doctor Atomic, and his new opera Girls of the Golden West, making us think afresh about American history, the nuclear age and terrorism. On the Transmigration of Souls reflects poignantly on 9/11, and in his oratorios Adams takes the Bach Passions as his model, and uses them to explore immigration and gender issues, making sure women’s voices and minority points of view are heard.

John Adams writes music that is genuinely of our time, and always has been, from the late 20th century into the 21st century. In recent pieces such as Absolute Jest, his violin concerto Scheherazade.2, and his new Piano Concerto, Adams’ music continues to evolve, and to enrich our musical landscape.