A peculiar man, Adams, but he can compose like no other. He is one of the most successful and frequently performed contemporary composers and that is not without a reason: his music is very accessible and pleasant to the ear, without it immediately sounding like a tapestry of sound or muzak.
Adams gets his inspiration from “landscapes and their relation to the human psyche” (his own words!) and considers his music to be “ethnic, but influenced by jazz and pop”. He calls his style ‘post-style’ and says that most of his compositions are a celebration of American culture.
He loves America and its poets. His (in my opinion) most beautiful work, The Wound Dresser, was composed to a poem by Walt Whitman.
‘Hail Bop’, Tony Palmer’s documentary about John Adams, is beautiful, exciting and informative. There are many music and opera fragments, interesting interviews, and beautiful images of the American landscape that Adams loved so much.
I only have trouble with the fragments of the filmed version of ‘Death of Klinghoffer’. I have never experienced the opera as anti-Semitic or even anti-Israeli, but I find the over-realistic images of Palestinian children throwing stones and Israeli soldiers shooting, a bit too much and also irrelevant: the opera was composed in 1991, almost ten years before the outbreak of the second Intifada. But anyway, you don’t have to agree with me (Warner Music Vision 50-51011-4857-2-5)
Bonus: 10 Essential Nixon in China Clips (shared from Opera News):
10. While this is not a performance clip (there’s not a hugely diverse selection online), it’s a good introduction to Adams’s opera (via Adams and director Peter Sellars) for those unfamiliar. Interviewed by Sondra Radvanovsky, in 2011 at the Met. —EG
9. The original cast of Nixon at HGO, 1987, with John Duykers as Mao, Sanford Sylvan as Chou En Lai and James Maddalena as Nixon. —FPD
8. June Anderson, looking eerily like First Lady Pat Nixon, at the Chatelet in Paris, 2012. —FPD
7. Carolann Page created the role of Pat Nixon in the HGO premiere, but Dawn Upshaw’s recording of “This is Prophetic” is a beautiful interpretation. —EG
6. A bright-eyed, sympathetic Pat Nixon sung by Janis Kelly in the Met’s HD Live transmission. —LTG
5. Peter Sellars’s production had its Met premiere in 2011, Mark Morris’s choreography shining in the “Flesh Rebels” scene. —EG
4. The opera’s centerpiece, “This is prophetic,” is a show-stopping reverie, especially as sung by Carolann Page. —HS
3. Adams’s Foxtrot for Orchestra is some of his most glorious, gorgeous music. I love the way that it shimmers with strange melancholy and a kind of cubist nostalgia. It is so keenly constructed that it was also used to wonderful effect a few years ago in the Tilda Swinton movie I am in love and seemed instantly to take on an entirely new meaning. —AW
2. Kathleen Kim is fantastic in this performance of Jiang Qing’s signature aria. This is one of the opera’s big moments, and she makes the role and this siren song entirely her own. —AW
1. Nixon’s entrance aria, “News has a kind of mystery,” sounds like classic rock n’ roll deconstructed through minimalist opera. A decade after first seeing this opera, I still get this stuck in my head. —HS
My favourite piecee of the opera is the aria of Chou En-lai (Sanford Sylvain) “I am old and I cannot sleep”