American maestro Kent Nagano is known as one of biggest champions of John Adams, recording more than a half dozen of the composer’s works and presenting the world premieres of such milestone pieces as The Death of Klinghoffer and El Niño. Given the close collaboration between Nagano and Adams for more than a quarter-century, it was only natural that the Ravinia Festival would ask Nagano to lead its contribution to this year’s worldwide celebration of the composer’s 70th birthday.

In what will be Nagano’s festival debut, he will lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a program July 25 showcasing Harmonielehre (The Book of Harmony), the 50-minute masterpiece that Adams composed in 1984-85. Nagano and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra are preparing to record the work later this year for Decca.

Although Adams’ musical language is rooted in minimalism, a style pioneered by Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley, he has developed an approachable musical language all his own, drawing on influences ranging from Baroque music to rock. While he might be best known as an operatic composer, particularly due to the success of Nixon in China, one of the rare contemporary operas to become an international staple, his writing extends across the realms of symphonic, choral and chamber music. Adams’ work is the most performed music of any living American composer, according to data compiled by the League of American Orchestras.

“I would consider John a very important composer, particularly an important American composer,” Nagano said. “How many decades ago was Nixon in China? How many decades ago was Common Tones in Simple Time? I still turn back to these pieces. And like all great pieces, each time one returns to them and restudies them, I’m able to find something more — new dimensions that I haven’t seen before, other reflections of innovation and genius.”

This is an excerpt of an article published in the Ravinia magazine; to read the complete version, click here.