John Luther Adams has been named the 2010 winner of the $100,000 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition. The announcement was made today at the Northwestern University Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music. The biennial award honors classical music composers of outstanding achievement who had a significant impact on the field of composition. Past winners include John Adams (2004), Oliver Knussen (2006) and Kaija Saariaho (2008).
John Luther Adams (b. 1953) came to music as a rock drummer. Through a youthful passion for the music of Frank Zappa he became acquainted with the works of Edgard Varèse and Morton Feldman. Adams went on to study composition at the California Institute of the Arts, where he received a bachelor of fine arts in 1973. Two years later he made his first trip to Alaska, where he has lived since 1978. Adams’ music, which combines rhythmic intricacy with a contemplative, expansive spirit, is deeply rooted in the geography and cultures of Alaska. His compositions, which include pieces for orchestra, chamber ensembles, radio, film, television, theater and opera, have been performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Radio Netherlands Philharmonic, the California E.A.R. Unit chamber ensemble, Bang on a Can, Percussion Group-Cincinnati, New Music America, and Arena Stage in Washington and have been recorded on the Cold Blue, New World Music, Cantaloupe Music, Mode Records and New Albion labels. Adams is also the author of two books: Winter Music and The Place Where You Go to Listen. He is currently composing an extended work for Glenn Kotche (the drummer/percussionist of the band Wilco) and writing a new book titled True Places: An Atlas of Memory. His latest CD for the Cold Blue label, Four Thousand Holes, will be released in September 2010. Adams has earned awards and fellowships from Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation, Opera America, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the Alaska State Council on the Arts. In 2006, he was named one of the first United States Artists Fellows. From 1998 to 2001, John Luther Adams served as president of the American Music Center, during which time he wrote monthly essays for NewMusicBox.
“John Luther Adams was cited by the selection committee ‘for melding the physical and musical worlds into a unique artistic vision that transcends stylistic boundaries,’” said Bienen School of Music Dean Toni-Marie Montgomery. The Nemmers Prize committee that selected Adams is comprised of three anonymous individuals of widely recognized stature in the international music community.
In addition to the cash award, Nemmers Prize recipients have one of their works performed at a later date by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. However, Adams’ work for orchestra and electronic sounds, Dark Waves, was previously scheduled by the Chicago Symphony and will be performed on October 28 and 29, 2010 at Symphony Center in downtown Chicago. Adams also will be in residence at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years. His first two residency dates are scheduled for October 25 to 28, 2010 and February 22 to 25, 2011.
“When I learned I’d been chosen to receive the 2010 Nemmers Prize, I was stunned,” said Adams. “For most of my creative life I’ve worked in relative isolation. It’s deeply gratifying to know that my music resonates in the larger world. And since few things make me happier than working with young musicians, I’m especially looking forward to my residencies at the Bienen School of Music.”
The Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Musical Composition is made possible through a generous gift from the late Erwin E. Nemmers and Frederic E. Nemmers, who in 1994 enabled the creation of the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics and the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics, leading awards in those fields. (—Condensed from the press release)