photo by Margaretta Mitchell
  • photo by Margaretta Mitchell
(Benaroya Hall) John Adams has come to seem something like the American composer laureate, striking an amiable balance of innovation and convention. In the 1980s, he wrote the historical opera Nixon in China, and in 2005, the opera Doctor Atomic, about the Manhattan Project, in addition to many orchestral and chamber pieces along the way following his beginnings in 1970s minimalism. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, the New York Philharmonic commissioned him to write On the Transmigration of Souls, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. Based in Northern California, he now visits Seattle to conduct his own mid-1980s work Harmonielehre (German for "study of harmony"), inspired by a dream he had of an oil tanker taking off out of the San Francisco Bay like a rocket. The rest of the program is promising, too: Young pianist Jonathan Biss (born in 1980, just a few years before Adams's takeoff dream)—who, in an unusual move for a classical soloist, released a 19,000-word essay on the art of performing Beethoven's sonatas in 2011, followed by a recording of them in 2012—performs the Emperor Concerto. We always wonder what the composers really wanted; here's a concert that tries to get closest.