John Adams's 50th Birthday Concert with the Halle Orchestra is at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall (0161-907 9000) on 23 Jan at 7.30pm It's difficult to believe that one of the world's most exciting "young" composers is about to turn 50. John Adams's birthday isn't actually until 15 February, but that hasn't prevented the Halle, the British orchestra with which Adams has shared such a fruitful collaboration, from celebrating the American's imminent half-century this month, with the composer himself conducting his Slonimsky's Earbox, Violin Concerto and Harmonielehre.

Branded for far too long as a minimalist, Adams's early pieces from the 1970s do owe a debt to Terry Riley and Steve Reich. But Adams's influences don't end there; he has employed idioms as diverse as jazz, gospel, rock and march-band strains. Nor has he shirked away from creating large-scale structures, as in his two "political" operas - Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, as well as in lavish compositions for full symphony orchestra.

A decade ago, one would never have thought that Adams would pen anything as "classical" as a Violin Concerto, but his piece of 1993 in exactly that genre - scored for classical orchestra, with the addition of percussion and synthesizers - demonstrates otherwise.

If the Violin Concerto betrays Adams's use of Classicism, in his epic three-movement Harmonielehre of 1985 he turned to late- Romantic harmony. Yet Harmonielehre, like many of Adams's works, transcends its starting point, with the composer always working out from his initial palette - mixing, blending, creating.

A similar impulse can be found in the piece that opens Thursday's concert, Slonimsky's Earbox, a tribute to the eminent Russian-born musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky commissioned by the Halle and the Oregon Symphony Orchestras.

Ever inventive, permanently accessible, Adams is a unique postmodern musical voice. Many happy returns!


The award-winning (and young) Zanfonia Trio, who fuse the unique timbres of violin/viola, clarinet and piano, also play some interesting new repertoire. Their recital takes in shorter works by Rebecca Saunders, Andrew Schultz and Kurtag, along with Ruth Byrchmore's Golden Shadows, and Thea Musgrave's Pierrot. Sallis Benney Theatre, Brighton, (01273 643 010) 23 Jan, 7.45pm