SF Symphony wins Grammy for music by Berkeley resident

Margaretta Mitchell/Courtesy
Berkeley resident, John Adams (pictured above), wrote the San Francisco Symphony’s modern rendition of “Harmonielehre” and “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” that won for Best Orchestral Performance at the Grammys.

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The San Francisco Symphony and music director Michael Tilson Thomas received a Grammy Sunday night for their live performance of two musical pieces written by acclaimed Berkeley resident John Adams.

The symphony’s modern rendition of “Harmonielehre” and “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” composed in the 1980s, won for Best Orchestral Performance.

“When a new piece is premiered it can happen that it makes a stunning impression but the real story of that piece is what emerges over time,” Thomas said in a press release.

According to Thomas, the award had a special significance for both the composer and the symphony, as Harmonielehre was composed for the symphony when Adams was the composer-in-residence in the 1980s.

“When the (symphony) first premiered Harmonielehre in the 1980s, it was a life-changing moment for everyone who heard it,” Thomas said.

The pieces recaptured public attention more recently when the San Francisco Symphony recorded and rereleased them in March of last year during the symphony’s monthlong “American Mavericks” festival and tour.

Although Adams can trace his professional career in composition back to the 1970s, his first major award was a Grammy he received in 1989 for Best Contemporary Composition for his critically acclaimed work “Nixon in China.” The opera depicts Richard Nixon’s momentous visit to China in 1972.

This was the first of five Grammys Adams would eventually win for his compositions.

Adams also has the distinction of being the recipient of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his tribute to the victims of 9/11. The piece, entitled “On the Transmigration of Souls,” was composed and performed in 2002.

Contact Nick Gaines at [email protected]