A decades-long affiliate of the San Francisco Conservatory and the San Francisco Symphony, Berkeley resident John Adams, 63, is known around the world. Among living composers, his works are the most frequently performed.
The Pulitzer Prize winner’s operas, including “Nixon in China” and “Doctor Atomic,” are in the repertory of opera companies everywhere.
Adams will be in the hometown spirit this month with a San Francisco Symphony residence, heading Project San Francisco, which runs today through Dec. 12. In addition to programming concerts during the period, he will conduct some of his own works.
Adams’ work with the symphony goes back to 1979. He was the orchestra’s composer in residence between 1982 and 1985, and his tenure helped set the precedent for such residencies at other organizations in the U.S. and Europe. Since 1981, the symphony has performed 21 of Adams’ works, six of which were commissions. They include “Harmonielehre,” “El Dorado” and “A Flowering Tree.”
Another San Francisco premiere, the 2001 “El Niño,” is a prominent part of this year’s residency. It is being performed today through Saturday under the composer’s direction, with a star-studded cast that includes Dawn Upshaw, Jessica Rivera and Michelle DeYoung.
“El Niño (The Christ Child)” is John Adams’ nativity oratorio. The birth of his daughter Emily in 1984 was an event that changed his life.
“There were four people in the room, and then there were five,” he says.
Adams thought the famous birth of Nativity would be the right occasion to contemplate and celebrate birth itself.
Years ago, at a birthday concert for Adams, then 12-year-old Emily was concertmaster and Sam, 11, principal bass in the Crowden School Orchestra in Berkeley.
Adams learned to speak Spanish to write “El Niño,” but in spite of that and his frequent trips to Europe to conduct his works, he is a militantly American artist.
“For all the aggravation and for all the vulgarity of American life — the loud, obnoxious commercialism — I would never want to live in another culture,” Adams says. “This is the culture that has fed me and stimulated me as an artist.”
Other concerts in Project San Francisco include Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the orchestra in Adams’ “Harmonielehre,” along with works by Cowell and Mozart, from Dec. 8 to 11; and Adams’ Road Movies, “Shaker Loops,” “Hallelujah Junction” and String Quartet at a chamber-music matinee Dec. 12.
The next Project San Francisco, in June, will feature pianist Yuja Wang.
IF YOU GO
Project San Francisco
Presented by the San Francisco Symphony
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: Today through Dec. 12
Tickets: $35 to $140
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org