ARTS FIRST 2007 | May 3 - 6

Photos from the Reception honoring Harvard Arts Medalist John Adams '69 MA '72


On Saturday May 5, 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning composer John Adams '69, MA '72 was presented with the 2007 Harvard Arts Medal as a part of the ARTS FIRST weekend festivities on Saturday, May 5th.  Mr. Adams is the 13th distinguished Harvard or Radcliffe alum or faculty member to receive this accolade for excellence in the arts and contributions to education and the public good through the arts. Past Medalists have included playwright Christopher Durang ’71 (2006), cellist Yo-Yo Ma ‘76 (2004), filmmaker Mira Nair ‘79 (2003), and director Peter Sellars ‘80 (2001).

A clarinetist from youth, John Adams focused on composition during his graduate studies at Harvard.  Since then, he has created works in a variety of genres, which have been performed across the world.  Though his works have often been classified as minimalist, Adams has said, “whenever serious art loses track of its roots in the vernacular, then it begins to atrophy.” Consequently, he also considers himself “the first composer to grow up in the LP era” and has cited influences as disparate as Bach, Duke Ellington, John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mahler, and the Beatles.

John Adams receiving his medal from President-Elect Drew Faust

Many of Adams best known pieces have been operatic examinations of historical events:  Nixon in China (1987), The Death of Klinghoffer (1991), and Dr. Atomic (2005) were all created in collaboration with director and previous Harvard arts medalist, Peter Sellars ’80.  Though these works deal with landmark incidents and characters, Adams believes that “what's fundamentally important is that composers write the music that means something to themselves, and that they don't try to tell other people what's right and what's wrong.”

In 2002, John Adams was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to commemorate those lost in the September 11th attacks on New York.  He expressed his goal to “create a musical space for reflection and remembrance, of meditation on an unanswerable question.”  Utilizing what he called the “plain homely language of shock and grief,” he composed the operatic piece On the Transmigration of Souls, which debuted on the one year anniversary of the tragedy.  His creation received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for music, and has become a monument in sound performed each year by orchestras across the United States.

Upon his return to Harvard for ARTS FIRST, Mr. Adams took part in a variety of forums which provided the Harvard community with opportunities to learn first hand about his artistic accomplishments.  The culmination event was when Mr. Adams was presented with the Harvard Arts Medal by President-Elect Drew Faust.  




John Lithgow '67

Stefan Jackiw '07 accepts the Louis Sudler Prize for outstanding student achievement in the arts.