Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life by John Adams - review by Patrick O’Connor

Patrick O’Connor

Jabs & Bullets

Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life


Faber & Faber 340pp £18.99

Just a few days after the US presidential election, John Adams's opera Doctor Atomic was broadcast live on big screens in hundreds of venues across the world, as part of the New York Metropolitan's high-definition season. When Adams walked out on stage to join the cast, he received a standing ovation. At the end of an emotion-packed week, I cannot have been the only viewer who felt that Adams was where he belonged – the greatest American opera composer of our time at last on centre stage at the Met.

In this good-natured autobiography, Adams takes the reader through the creative process for all his major works. We move from the early American Standard, in which, as he puts it, he trolled 'the backwaters of my childhood memory' for music to evoke his upbringing, to the operas that have established him all over the world: Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, El Niño, and now Doctor Atomic.

Adams's family had a diverse approach to music. His father played clarinet in Ed Murphy's orchestra, a 1930s jazz band; his mother was a singer, who even in her sixties could 'stop a noisy party' with a gutsy rendition of 'Won't you come home, Bill Bailey?' It was his step-grandfather,

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

A Mirror - Westend