Arts orgs honor birthdays of living musical legends

2016 and upcoming 2017 events are honoring the birthdays of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Adams, three music composers that are called comparable to musicians of centuries past such as Bach and Beethoven.

Ekaterina Chesnokova/Sputnik/AP
Bolshoi Theater dancers Yekaterina Krysanova and Andrei Merkuryev, accompanied by Fyodor Amosov on the cello, in a performance honoring composer Philip Glass.

For the 2016-17 season, performing arts organizations had a trio of birthday celebrations, with minimalism pioneers Steve Reich and Philip Glass both turning 80 on Oct. 3, 2016, and Jan. 31, 2017, respectively. 

The San Francisco Symphony started its season last September with a week of Mr. Reich’s music, including his Three Movements for its opening night gala. And now throughout his birthday month of February, composer John Adams celebrated by having his works performed by top-notch orchestras.

Mr. Adams was composer-in-residence with the San Francisco Symphony early on in his career, from 1982 to 1985. "The pillars of the relation here is started in 1978 when he was appointed Contemporary Music Advisor," says Matthew Spivey, SFS director of artistic planning. "The New and Unusual Music series he curated showed a real commitment back then towards furthering the repertoire.”

And the SFS honored Adams’s birthday by programming his works over a three-week period, including having Adams curate a weekend at SFS’s popular in-house SoundBox space. In early March, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will present a new version of Adams’s seminal “Nixon in China” opera, with Adams himself conducting. The St. Louis Symphony, New York Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony will also be presenting concerts dedicated to Adams’s compositions that month. The musical revelry isn’t limited to orchestras or venues in the United States. Adams’s compositions will be heard in England, France, Germany, and the Netherlands at various times from early April through mid-June.

To honor Mr. Glass, Stanford Live at Stanford University opened its season last September with Glass’s complete piano études as performed by the composer and four other pianists. Los Angeles Opera, in turn, staged Glass’s impressive “Akhnaten” back in November with lyrics in English, ancient Egyptian, biblical Hebrew, and Akkadian. “Birthday celebrations are a great opportunity to reflect on these really important people,” Mr. Spivey says. “Open a music textbook in a hundred years, and their contributions will be there alongside [those of] Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky.”

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