John Luther Adams

2010 Distinguished ArtistMusic/Music CompositionAward Amount: $25,0002005 Project AwardMusic/Music CompositionAward Amount: $5,000

2010 Distinguished Artist Award

The Alaska environment is a major inspiration in the music of composer John Luther Adams. Adams develops a sense of place in his compositions, inviting listeners into natural spaces—quiet forests of quaking aspens, the depths of the ocean. He writes for a great variety of media and is known for crossing stylistic boundaries to explore “sonic geography,” the intersections of place and culture. He studied composition with James Tenney and Leonard Stein at the California Institute of the Arts, but he chose Alaska over graduate school in 1978. For almost forty years, he lived in the woods beyond Fairbanks, where he and his wife, Cynthia, worked to protect the environment, and he composed and wrote about his music. They moved to New York City in 2014. Later that year, Adams’s orchestral work “Become Ocean” received the Pulitzer Prize for Music. In 2015 it won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. “Inuksuit,” his outdoor work for up to 99 percussionists, is regularly performed all over the world.

The piano in John Luther Adams’ New York City apartment. The awards on the piano include the Pulitzer Prize on the right and Adams’ 2015 Grammy Award for “Become Ocean” on the left. Photograph by Sven Haakanson.

Adams credits his 2010 Rasmuson Foundation Distinguished Artist Award with sparking a new period in his creative life. To Rasmuson Foundation he wrote, “The unrestricted funding allowed me to compose new works that were not commissioned, to complete a new CD, and to travel to important performances of my music.” During the year he composed his first string quartet, “The Wind in High Places;” orchestrated chamber pieces; worked on his third book—a memoir titled “Silences So Deep;” collaborated with a filmmaker; performed; and developed a new CD — “Four Thousand Holes.”

2005 Project Award

Adams will support recording a new full-length orchestral work for release on compact disc.

Ilimaq (excerpt from The Sunken Gamelan) – For solo percussionist and electronic sounds | Commissioned by University of Texas, Stanford University, the Walker Art Center, and Duke University | 2015

Become Ocean – For large orchestra | Commissioned by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra | 2013
Four Thousand Holes – For piano, percussion and electronic sounds | Commissioned by Stephen Drury | 2010
Canticles of the Holy Wind – For four choirs and vocal soloists | Commissioned by Chamber Choir Kamer and The Crossing Choir | 2013
The Light That Fills the World – For violin, vibraphone, marimba, sustaining keyboard, contrabass instrument | Commissioned by the Paul Dresher Electric Chamber Ensemble | revised 2001