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John Luther Adams Wins Nemmers Composition Prize

In addition to cash award, Adams work to be performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

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April 29, 2010 | by Judy Moore
Adams' music is influenced by nature, especially the landscapes of Alaska where he has resided for more than 30 years.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- American composer John Luther Adams has been named the 2010 winner of the $100,000 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition. The announcement was made today (April 29) by the Northwestern University Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music.

Adams' music is influenced by nature, especially the landscapes of Alaska where he has resided for more than 30 years. He is currently composing an extended work for Glenn Kotche (the drummer/percussionist of the band Wilco) and writing a new book titled "True Places: An Atlas of Memory." His latest CD for the Cold Blue label, "Four Thousand Holes," will be released in September 2010.

The biennial award honors classical music composers of outstanding achievement who had a significant impact on the field of composition. Past winners include John Adams (2004), Oliver Knussen (2006) and Kaija Saariaho (2008).

"John Luther Adams was cited by the selection committee ‘for melding the physical and musical worlds into a unique artistic vision that transcends stylistic boundaries,'" said Bienen School of Music Dean Toni-Marie Montgomery. The Nemmers Prize committee that selected Adams is comprised of three anonymous individuals of widely recognized stature in the international music community.

As the recipient of the 2010 Nemmers Prize, Adams will receive a cash award of $100,000. In addition to the cash award, Nemmers Prize recipients have one of their works performed at a later date by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. However, Adams' work for orchestra and electronic sounds, "Dark Waves," was previously scheduled by the Chicago Symphony and will be performed Oct. 28 and 29 at Symphony Center in downtown Chicago. Adams also will be in residence at Northwestern's Bienen School of Music during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years. His first two residency dates are scheduled for Oct. 25 to 28 of this year and Feb. 22 to 25, 2011.

"When I learned I'd been chosen to receive the 2010 Nemmers Prize, I was stunned," said Adams, who lives in the hills northwest of Fairbanks. "For most of my creative life I've worked in relative isolation. It's deeply gratifying to know that my music resonates in the larger world. And since few things make me happier than working with young musicians, I'm especially looking forward to my residencies at the Bienen School of Music."

The Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition is made possible through a generous gift from the late Erwin E. Nemmers and Frederic E. Nemmers, who in 1994 enabled the creation of the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics and the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics, leading awards in those fields.

John Luther Adams

John Luther Adams (b. 1953) came to music as a rock drummer. Through a youthful passion for the music of Frank Zappa he became acquainted with the works of Edgar Varese and Morton Feldman. Adams went on to study composition at the California Institute of the Arts, where he received a bachelor of fine arts in 1973. Two years later he made his first trip to Alaska, where he has lived since 1978. Adams has served as timpanist and principal percussionist with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra and the Arctic Chamber Orchestra. From 1994 to 1997 he was composer-in-residence with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Anchorage Opera and Alaska Public Radio Network. He has served as president of the American Music Center, a New York-based national information and support center for new American music.

Adams' music is deeply rooted in the geography and cultures of Alaska. While the influence of Feldman can be heard in the scale and contemplative spirit of expansive, slow-moving orchestral works such as "Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing" (1991-95) and "In the White Silence" (1998). Adams combines this with an almost physical embodiment of the natural world. His experience as a percussionist and his study of Alaska Native drumming can be heard in the rhythmic intricacy of his music.

Adams' work includes pieces for orchestra, chamber ensembles, radio, film, television, theater and opera. His works have been performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Radio Netherlands Philharmonic, the California E.A.R. Unit chamber ensemble, Bang on a Can, Percussion Group-Cincinnati, New Music America, and Arena Stage in Washington.

He has earned awards and fellowships from Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation, Opera America, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and the Alaska State Council on the Arts. In 2006, Adams was named one of the first United States Artists Fellows.

Adams' music can be heard on the Cold Blue, New World Music, Cantaloupe Music, Mode Records and New Albion labels. He is the author of "Winter Music" and "The Place Where You Go to Listen" (Wesleyan University Press) and has written about music and nature in numerous periodicals and anthologies. Adams has served on the faculties of the Oberlin Conservatory, Bennington College and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

For more information on Adams, visit www.johnlutheradams.com or contact Ellen Schantz at  the Bienen School of Music at eschantz@northwestern.edu.

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