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American Master: a Portrait of John Adams

Fri Mar 8, 8-9pm, BBC4

Tim Cragg
In BBC4’s excellent modern classical primer ‘The Sound and the Fury’, John Adams came across as – and we’re being charitable here – a bit of a grump. So it’s a pleasure to report that this film by Mark Kidel finds him in an altogether more accommodating mood; thoughtful, engaging and charming company. For the classical neophyte, Adams has always seemed a somewhat imposing figure – not quite as readily processed as Steve Reich or Philip Glass, and too diverse in his output to easily pin down.

This documentary touches on every aspect of his work, from politically conscious operas to beatific meditations like ‘The Dharma of Big Sur’. Adams also talks revealingly about his working processes – ‘getting the music to do what it wants to do’ seems to be a priority. Visually, the film is striking too: Adams lives in California and the state’s grandly infinite skies reflect the composer’s wide-open receptiveness perfectly.