The San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) will present American composer John Adams with an honorary doctorate at its 2019 commencement ceremony on Friday, May 17. Adams, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former faculty member of SFCM, is consistently ranked as one of the most frequently performed living composers, regularly receiving commissions from the world’s premier orchestras, opera companies, and artists.
“We are honored to welcome John Adams back to the Conservatory of Music to receive the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa,” says SFCM President David H. Stull. “John is one of most distinguished and prolific composers of our time, and this event has special meaning as he was such an transformative figure in the history of our wonderful school. As a member of our faculty, he inspired generations of students, and as an artist, he has inspired all of us in the years that followed. We are delighted to have him with us."
“I'm thrilled to be coming back to SFCM to speak at this year's commencement ceremony,” says John Adams. “The years I spent teaching at the Conservatory were some of my most formative for my early career, and the opportunity to share a little bit of my experience with this new generation of SFCM graduates is something that elicits both a sense of nostalgia and aspiration. I am truly honored.”
Adams taught at SFCM from 1972-1982, a tenure which saw a flowering of interest in contemporary music at the Conservatory. While leading the SFCM New Music Ensemble, he programmed works by contemporaries such as Steve Reich and Terry Riley as well as experimental music by John Cage and other leading figures.
SFCM served as a place for experimentation and an environment where Adams could hone his voice as his career began to flourish. Adams served as composer-in-residence at the San Francisco Symphony from 1982-1985, a period which saw the premieres of groundbreaking works such as Harmonielehre and Grand Pianola Music. Shortly thereafter, he put his mark on American opera with Nixon in China and produced many pieces that have become staples in the repertoire.
Adams won the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2003 for his On the Transmigration of Souls, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to commemorate the first anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. He is also the recipient of numerous other prizes including the Grawemeyer Award, Harvard Arts Medal, Nemmers Prize, Erasmus Prize, and multiple Grammy awards. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, a title bestowed by France’s Ministry of Culture.
As a conductor, Adams appears with the world’s major orchestras in programs combining his own works with a wide variety of repertoire ranging from Beethoven and Mozart to Ives, Carter, Zappa, Glass, and Ellington. In recent seasons, he has conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Symphoniker, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the orchestras of Seattle, Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Toronto.
Adams has been awarded honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, Northwestern University, Cambridge University, The Juilliard School, and the Royal Academy of Music. He is also the author of the highly acclaimed autobiography Hallelujah Junction and is a contributor to the New York Times Book Review.