john adams

Composer of the Week on BBC Radio 3 is the American John Adams for whose music I have a soft spot.

The reason is simple – my debut with the CBSO Chorus in 1999 was a performance of Adams’ ‘Harmonium’ conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

I had auditioned for the chorus a few weeks earlier and expected to be singing repertoire that would ease me back into choral singing after a 20 year break.

Mozart…. Faure…. Bach perhaps. But, no.

Instead, I found myself having to get to grips with a minimalist masterpiece composed about the time I stopped singing in a choir.

Gazing out into the Festival Hall, I glimpsed a few familiar faces – was that the novelist Salman Rushdie? Indeed, it was.

Which only added to the growing sense of terror rising within me as the moment to perform ‘Harmonium’ approached.

Somewhere in a box of old cassettes tapes, I have a recording of that performance made by Radio 3.

But rather wonderfully, YouTube has a tv recording of my predecessors in the Chorus tackling the work with Rattle, at a guess, sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

As well as being a great composer, John Adams is what we call in the media business ‘a good talker’ and you’ll enjoy lots of conversation and music in the opening ‘Composer of the Week’ programme.

If you’re an Adams fan, then his appearance at the BBC Proms tomorrow conducting a staged version of his opera ‘Nixon In China’ is by definition unmissable.

John Adams – Harmonium – extract

John Adams – Composer of the Week – BBC iPlayer

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