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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adams on Adams, 17 Feb. 2009
This review is from: Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life (Hardcover)
An enjoyable and enlightening account of the composer's life. I most enjoyed his evocation of childhood in New England and the descriptions that really brought 70s San Francisco to life in all its giddy excitement, post-hippy cultural exploration.

I thought his comments on elders (Boulez, Ives, etc) illuminating though I am already a sympathiser regarding the cul de sac of atonality. His writing on Cage, Cardew and Harrison demonstrates a real affection but not blind to their limitations.

Adams' writing is always thoughtful but sometimes I wished for a bit more passion. Interestingly this was my criticism of his music on first exposure - wonderful glittering surfaces but real depth? However, on greater acquaintance, I have been really moved by much of his output - Harmonielehre, The Wound Dresser, El Dorado, Gnarly Buttons to name a few - and would now rank him as the most significant composer of his generation. He brings much-needed enjoyment back to this serious business!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for aspiring composers, 7 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life (Hardcover)
The most important thing about John Adams' autobiography is that it gives aspiring composers a treasure-trove of crucial insights into how one of the world's most important living composers thinks and creates.

As Adams himself is at pains to show, his evolution into the one-man cultural powerhouse he has become was anything but smooth: several decades of hard work went by and an awful lot of dust had to settle before he started achieving what he really wanted to achieve in music. One of the great pleasures of reading this book is witnessing Adams laughing in hindsight at how most of his major discoveries and innovations as a composer were made accidentally as a result of bone-headed, naïve mistakes on his part. Several of his best pieces (even recent ones) were utter disasters at their premières, and only achieved their final form after months and years of "tweaking" in subsequent performances and rehearsals. Where other people would have been discouraged beyond all hope of salvaging them, Adams stuck with pieces he thought were "duds" through thick and thin - and gradually turned them into "aces" in the process.

The book outlines the course of Adams' life in music with tremendous verve and concision, dwelling at length on the most interesting issues while discarding all irrelevancies. To that extent, his prose is very much like his music - a product of his unerring instinct for distinguishing between what is important and what is not. The geneses of several of his most ambitious works (Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, El Niño, Doctor Atomic and A Flowering Tree) are rich and complex enough to be given their own chapters.

Remarkably, the whole book adds up to just 326 pages.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An American composer's life, 8 Jan. 2009
This review is from: Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life (Hardcover)
I have always enjoyed John Adam's chamber and orchestral music, though I have never been a fan of vocal music (his or anyone else's). Thus I was keen to read what he had to say about himself. From the first page, I was absorbed. It really did bring out 'an American life' as in the title. He begins with his parents, giving much detail about his family life and that of his parents. This contrasts with the paucity of information he gives on his own family life. Happily for him, he was (fairly) easily able to get to university and get his batchelor's and master's degrees, largely as a result of his ability to earn money as a performer and jobbing musician.

Of course, John Adams recounts the genesis of many of his well-known pieces, especially his operas, with some penetrating insights into the American musical and political contexts. He also includes a number of discourses on the wider musical scene in America, although these sometimes do seem to be interpolations into the narrative.

I did have a few criticisms; there were a few things that I would have liked to have known, but this information was sparse or missing. What sort of money does one get from being a composer? At one point he does say that he gave up his 'day job' to concentrate full-time on composing, and it is clear that he must have made enough to buy a rather nice house. I don't want to see his accounts, but an indication of commission money or royalties would give perspective to a composer's life.

The other aspect he seems to be shy of is his family life. We know he marries his first wife when young, and this lasts around four years, but that is about it. We are introduced to Deborah as his new love interest, then we learn she is pregnant, only later does he refer to her as his wife. From the book I get the impression that they are indeed a devoted couple, so this seems odd.

I read John Adams immediately after reading a book on the history of imported English words. The contrast in style was amazing. John Adams writes lucid prose, whereas the English 'expert' does not!

Despite these caveats, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book. I would commend it to anyone interested in twentieth- and twenty-first-century music and its genesis.

John Rostron
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4.0 out of 5 stars Really very good autobiography and disarmingly honest, 20 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life (Hardcover)
Really very good autobiography and disarmingly honest. Well worth reading and tells you so much about the man as a man and a composer.
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Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life
Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life by John Adams (Hardcover - 2 Oct. 2008)
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