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Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life Hardcover – September 30, 2008

4.8 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Best known for his groundbreaking musical works Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, Adams helped shape the landscape of contemporary classical music. Combining the narrative power of opera, the atonal themes of 20th-century classical music, the spooky modulations of jazz and the complex rhythms of the Beatles and the Band, Adams created a new music that could express the fractiousness of the political scene of the 1960s and 1970s. In this entertaining memoir, Adams deftly chronicles his life and times, providing along the way an incisive exploration of the creative process. A precocious musician, Adams began playing clarinet in the third grade, and, after hearing his teacher read Mozart's biography, tried his hand at composing music. During his undergraduate years at Harvard, he threw himself into performing and conducting when his own inadequacies as a composer began to dawn on him. By his final year at Harvard, however, the chaos of the late 1960s and the creative turbulence of the music scene drove him back to composing. After two years in graduate school, Adams set out for California, where he taught numerous composition classes and private clarinet lessons while working on his own music and with a who's who of the music world, from Cage and Leonard Bernstein to Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Adams's searingly introspective autobiography reveals the workings of a brilliant musical mind responsible for some of contemporary America's most inventive and original music. (Oct.)
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From School Library Journal

Celebrated American composer and conductor Adams's memoir chronicles his life from his upbringing as a talented clarinetist in rural New England to his countercultural coming-of-age as a Harvard undergraduate in the 1960s to his embrace of the musical life and vibrant scene of the Bay Area. Adams writes candidly of his compositions and those of his contemporaries in language accessible to the lay reader. Adams—through his engaging orchestral works, such as the Pulitzer Prize-winning On the Transmigration of Souls and his several landmark "docu-operas" like Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic (opening at the New York Metropolitan Opera this October)—has emerged as one of the most admired of all living composers. His book proceeds chronologically, but Adams frequently pauses to reflect on the nature of composing and the state of contemporary music. As one of the most inclusive of contemporary composers—his palette covers pop, jazz, and myriad global idioms—he shares his unique perspective on the multiple traditions that inform his musical language. Adams writes articulately about his life and works and the larger social context from which they emerge. Highly recommended for all collections.—Larry Lipkis, Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, PA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374281157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374281151
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #729,675 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By gtra1n VINE VOICE on January 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
So as not to diminish my thoughts on this book, I should first mention that I am a great lover of Adams' music, and as a composer always interested in what other composers have to write about themselves. That being said, this is a wonderful book in every way. Adams is a graceful and charming writer, and the book runs on several parallel and intertwined courses that are mutually supportive, like elegant counterpoint. He recounts his personal and professional life, and along the way examines himself, his art and the music of other colleagues. His critical evaluation of his own work and that of others is exceptionally clear, well-considered and wise, and his thoughts on what it takes to be a composer, what he feels is the right path, and his own experiences of the difficulties of living as a serious, creative artist in America are sober and courageous. I find myself constantly re-reading passages simply for the pleasure of the insight of his thoughts and his ability to express them.

This is a book for all readers, not just specialists or fans. It's an exceptional autobiography of any kind, of any figure in contemporary American life, and for anyone interested in classical music in general, and the current iterations, this book demands to be read. This will be as essential a part of the literature of music as Adams' own work is an essential part of the history of music itself.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
John Adams' background, rise, and development to perhaps the foremost American classical composer alive is well examined in this autobiography. A fan of his compositions from the outset and having seen many of their performances sometimes with Adams conducting, I find additional resonance with his rich and lively descriptions of nearby locales, characters, musics, and events, since I, just two years his senior, had lived under similar and often the same musical and socio-cultural influences in the Bay Area. Adams' takes on John Cage, early electronica, and Miminalism's Steve Reich and Philip Glass are keen, full of peer insights. Adams acknowledges that he discovered his voice, his own unique compositional style, at age 30 after a long series of avant-garde experimentation. His influences besides classical composers, including Wagner and Ives, were psychedelic rock (e.g., Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrex, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead) as well as jazz greats (e.g., Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Eric Dolphy, and John Coltrane). Adams is a Boomer composer who lived the alternative and experimental musical life. In 1981, his choral symphony "Harmonium" premiered at the inaugural of Davis Symphony Hall of the San Francisco Symphony. It launched him, providing an international reputation and a major record label, Nonesuch. (Later, his "Dharma at Big Sur" celebrated the opening of Disney Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.) His second punch was "Grand Pianola Music", whose conceptual source was an LSD memory of his attending a Rudolf Serkin concert of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto; the keyboard of Serkin's Steinway seemed to be continually expanding.Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition
John Adams, America’s best known living composer, is far from universally loved. His work is variedly labeled as dreary Minimalism, facile postmodernism, reactionary neoromanticism, politically correct eclecticism, and more. Personally I have been listening to his work for many years, with deepening admiration. For whatever it is worth I believe that compositions such as Harmonielehre, The Death of Klinghoffer, El Nino and The Dharma at Big Sur will eventually be accepted as a solid part of the canon of serious Western music.

In his autobiography Halleluja Junction the composer cogently and vivaciously retraces the path from his early musical experiences to creative maturity. The early chapters recount his New England youth and composition studies at Harvard University. In 1971 Adams moved to the West Coast and settled down in the Bay Area where he still lives. As a composer Adams started to find his own voice in the late 1970s. He considers his piano piece Phrygian Gates (1977) to be his first mature piece. Harmonium (1980), his first large scale work for large orchestra and chorus, was another important milestone.

I found the transitional part of his autobiography, roughly covering the two decades from 1965 to 1985, the most insightful. Here is an aspiring composer who has absorbed and tries to forge his own voice from a fantastically wide range of influences - the canon of 18th and 19th century European art music, the vernacular of jazz and American popular song, post-war serialism and Cagean aleatorics, minimalism, counterculture pop music, the emergence of electronically generated sounds. His early infatuation with the musical avant-garde, however, proves to be stillborn.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book by one of our most renowned modern composers. It is beautifully written and very thoughtful and insightful with regard to music in general and the art of composing "rlevant" music in this day and age. There are also many interesting recountings of the conception, evolution and production of many of Adams' operatic and orchestral works. Finally Adams provides us with wry insights into his own character and progress. Five stars!
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