Composer John Luther Adams receives William Schuman Award

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Columbia University School of the Arts is pleased to announce that John Luther Adams is the newest recipient of the William Schuman Award, a major recognition given periodically over the past three decades. Named for its first recipient, the award, in the form of a direct, unrestricted grant of $50,000, is one of the largest given to an American composer.

In the language of the gift establishing the prize, the purpose of the William Schuman Award is “to recognize the lifetime achievement of an American composer whose works have been widely performed and generally acknowledged to be of lasting significance.” It is awarded by the Dean of the School of the Arts at Columbia University. The award was established in 1981. Previous winners have included William Schuman, David Diamond, Gunther Schuller, Milton Babbitt, Hugo Weisgall, Steve Reich, John Zorn, and most recently, in 2010, Pauline Oliveros.

The prize will be awarded to Adams at a three-night tribute presented by Miller Theatre at Columbia University on October 7 – 10. The performances will showcase a trio of New York premieres: Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing (1991-95), In the White Silence (1998), and for Lou Harrison (2003-04). The trilogy of large-scale memorial works will be played by the JACK Quartet and the International Contemporary Ensemble, under the baton of noted conductor, percussionist and longtime Adams collaborator Steven Schick.

“I am so excited to be able to celebrate John Luther Adams and his incredible work,” says Melissa Smey, Executive Director of Miller Theatre at Columbia University. “Working with John on the urban outdoor premiere of Inuksuit in Morningside Park was a career highlight for me. During that performance, I watched as young children, dog-walkers, new-music enthusiasts, joggers, and students all came together and stopped to listen to this amazing music in our local park. John’s music connects with people from many different backgrounds, on many different levels. I can’t wait to share more of it with New Yorkers.”

The three pieces on the program were written in memory of three important people in Adams’s life: his mother, father, and friend and mentor Lou Harrison.

John Luther Adams is a composer whose life and work are deeply rooted in the natural world. A recipient of the Heinz Award for his contributions to raising environmental awareness, he also received the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Become Ocean, a haunting orchestral work that evokes thoughts of melting polar ice and rising sea levels. The piece was performed at Carnegie Hall and recorded by the Seattle Symphony and has been nominated for a 2015 Grammy award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. In July, his site-specific piece Sila: The Breath of the World premiered in Lincoln Center's Hearst Plaza, to critical acclaim.

Adams has composed for orchestra, chamber ensembles, percussion, and electronic media, and his music is heard regularly all over the world, including performances by the Chicago Symphony, the Radio Netherlands Philharmonic, the Melbourne Symphony, and the Seattle Symphony in such venues as Carnegie Hall, the Park Avenue Armory, and New York City’s Morningside Park.  He has taught at Harvard University, Oberlin Conservatory, Bennington College, and the University of Alaska. He has served as composer-in-residence with the Anchorage Symphony, Anchorage Opera, Fairbanks Symphony, Arctic Chamber Orchestra, and the Alaska Public Radio Network, and as president of the American Music Center.

Born in 1953, Adams grew up in the South and 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, in 1973. A longtime Alaska resident, he and his wife recently moved into an apartment in Harlem, adjacent to Morningside Park.
"John Luther Adams's work anticipates a complex yet poetic intertwining of music and space," said Carol Becker, Dean of the School of the Arts. "Whether he is writing for nontraditional sites or evoking the expansiveness of outdoor landscapes inside the concert hall, his writing radically redefines the relationship between sound and locality. We are thrilled to honor him with the Schuman award."
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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.