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By Nadia Sirota

John Adams: Californian by Choice

On Finding his Voice in the Golden State

In many ways, John Adams is the quintessential California composer. He has spent a statistically-significant part of his career writing in and about the state — a number of his works reference deep-cut California history and landscapes. But for John, a New England native, building a decades-long creative life in California was never really the plan.

We sat down with John to chat about his early days in the state, from a blue-collar job working the docks of Oakland, through a teaching stint at the young San Francisco Conservatory, to his musical and stylistic breakthrough. John shares stories about some of his most influential early pieces, including a bout with hangover, honeybee and world premiere-induced anaphylaxis. To this day, John remains inspired by California, its native and adopted creatives, and where the music industry as a whole has landed. 

John Adams portrait by Deborah O’Grady.


Nadia Sirota is a violist, conductor, and producer. In all branches of her artistic life she aims to open classical music up to a broader audience. She is a sought-after collaborator and appears on over 100 studio albums, including four solo albums of commissioned music. Nadia received a Peabody Award for her podcast Meet the Composer, which she co-created, co-produced, and hosted. Nadia joined the faculty of the Juilliard School in 2023, teaching Chamber Music and Graduate Studies, and becoming the school’s first Creative Associate at Large.

Editing and sound design by Matteah Baim.