Lauded by the New Yorker's Alex Ross as “one of the most original musical thinkers of the new century,” John Luther Adams draws inspiration from the natural world for his ambitious, large-scale compositions; these include Inuksuit, Sila, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Become Ocean, which in 2015 won the Grammy award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.
Adams composes for orchestra, chamber ensembles, percussion and electronic media, and his music has been released on various independent labels, including Cold Blue, New World, Mode, New Albion and Cantaloupe Music.
A recipient of the Heinz Award for his contributions to raising environmental awareness, Adams 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.”
JLA's music is heard regularly all over the world. The Chicago Symphony, the Radio Netherlands Philharmonic, and the Melbourne Symphony have performed Dark Waves for large orchestra and electronic sounds. Inuksuit, for up to ninety-nine percussionists, has been performed in New York City's Morningside Park and at the Park Avenue Armory, as well as many other outdoor venues throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia. Become Ocean made its New York premiere at Carnegie Hall in May 2014, and was performed by the Seattle Symphony.
Adams is also the author of Winter Music (2004), a collection of essays, journal entries and reflections on his life and work in Alaska. The subject of his second book is The Place Where You Go to Listen (2009) — also an installation at the Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska, that translates geophysical data streams into an ever-changing environment of sound and light. The Farthest Place (2012), a book-length critical study of JLA's music, includes essays by Kyle Gann, Steven Schick, Glenn Kotche and many other prominent musicians and scholars.
Adams has taught at Harvard University, the Oberlin Conservatory, Bennington College and the University of Alaska. He has been composer-in-residence with the Anchorage Symphony, Anchorage Opera, Fairbanks Symphony, Arctic Chamber Orchestra and the Alaska Public Radio Network, and he has served as president of the American Music Center.
Born in 1953, Adams grew up in the South and in the suburbs of New York City. He studied composition with James Tenney and Leonard Stein at the California Institute of the Arts, where he was in the first graduating class of 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.