John Luther Adams

b. 1953



For John Luther Adams, music is a lifelong search for home—an invitation to slow down, pay attention, and remember our place within the larger community of life on earth.

Living for almost 40 years in northern Alaska, JLA discovered a unique musical world grounded in space, stillness, and elemental forces. In the 1970s and into the 1980s, he worked full time as an environmental activist. But the time came when he felt compelled to dedicate himself entirely to music. He made this choice with the belief that, ultimately, music can do more than politics to change the world.

Since that time he has become one of the most widely admired composers in the world, receiving the Pulitzer Prize, a Grammy Award, and many other honors.

In works such as Become Ocean, In the White Silence, and Canticles of the Holy Wind, Adams brings the sense of wonder that we feel outdoors into the concert hall. And in outdoor works such as Inuksuit and Sila: The Breath of the World, he employs music as a way to reclaim our connections with place, wherever we may be.

A deep concern for the state of the earth and the future of humanity drives Adams to continue composing. As he puts it: “If we can imagine a culture and a society in which we each feel more deeply responsible for our own place in the world, then we just may be able to bring that culture and that society into being.”

Since leaving Alaska, JLA and his wife Cynthia have made their home in the deserts of Mexico, Chile, and the southwestern United States.

Critical Acclaim
One of the most original musical thinkers of the new century. — Alex Ross, The New Yorker

His music becomes more than a metaphor for natural forces: it is an elemental experience in its own right. — Tom Service, The Guardian

His music perfectly echoes the landscape he loves:impersonal, relentless, larger than human scale, yet gorgeous,a quiet chaos of colors, suffused with light. It’s not a climateeveryone could live in. But for those who want to bathe theirears in an aural aurora borealis while staying warm inside, it’sa spiritual odyssey well worth taking. — Kyle Gann, Chamber Music Magazine


John Luther Adams is a composer whose life and work are deeply rooted in the natural world. Adams was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his symphonic work Become Ocean, as well as a Grammy Award for "Best Contemporary Classical Composition" (2014). Inuksuit, his outdoor work for up to 99 percussionists, is regularly performed all over the world.

Columbia University has honored Adams with the William Schuman Award ‘to recognize the lifetime achievement of an American composer whose works have been widely performed and generally acknowledged to be of lasting significance.’

A recipient of the Heinz Award for his contributions to raising environmental awareness, JLA has also been honored with the Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University ‘for melding the physical and musical worlds into a unique artistic vision that transcends stylistic boundaries.’

Born in 1953, JLA grew up in the South and in the suburbs of New York City. He studied composition with James Tenney at the California Institute of the Arts, where he was in the first graduating class (in 1973). In the mid-1970s he became active in the campaign for the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and subsequently served as executive director of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.

Adams has taught at Harvard University, the Oberlin Conservatory, Bennington College, and the University of Alaska. He has also served as composer in residence with the Anchorage Symphony, Anchorage Opera, Fairbanks Symphony, Arctic Chamber Orchestra, and the Alaska Public Radio Network.

The music of John Luther Adams is recorded on Cantaloupe, Cold Blue, New World, Mode, and New Albion, and his books are published by Wesleyan University Press.

John Luther Adams on WQXR's Meet the Composer



13th August 2024

Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra
Amphitheatre, Chautauqua, NY, United States of America

20th September 2024

; Elaine Clark, violin
National Symphony Orchestra Ireland
Ryan McAdams
National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland

21st September 2024

Wenatchee Symphony
Nikolas Caoile
Numerica PAC, Wenatchee, WA, United States of America

28th September 2024

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Clark Rundell
Tramway Theatre, Glasgow, United Kingdom

6th October 2024

Steven Schick + Iowa Percussion
Steven Schick
Iowa City, Iowa City, IA, United States of America


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    • From the wilderness of national parks to the heart of the inner city, John Luther Adams’ pieces have been performed in locations as diverse as they are surprising. In this essay, he reflects on composing music for the world beyond the concert hall.