A portrait of contemporary American composer John Adams painted by artist Mathieu Laca

John Adams, oil on linen, 42X48", 2018

A Letter to My Favorite Contemporary Composer, John Adams

Painting American composer John Adams was an intensely personal experience for me. Here's the letter I sent Adams to express my love for his work.


Bonjour M. Adams,

I’m writing you to tell you my admiration and how much your music is important to me.

What I like best in your music is the sudden changes in orchestral colour and tempo — what I personally call the "underwater effect" as it sometimes gives me (especially in Harmonielehre) the impression of diving into an abyssal sea where corals breathe and strange creatures roam. In some pieces, I find this effect so profoundly exhilarating. I burst out in a joyful laughter when I first heard the tempo accelerations in The Absolute Jest; pure enchantment!

I could talk about so many of your various works but my favorite piece remains Harmonielehre. The first and third movements are so evocative. I heard it live in Montreal conducted by Maestro Nagano. So thrilling!

I was sitting in the choir section of the Maison Symphonique, right on top of the percussions. I had goosebumps. I truly believe you’re the Beethoven of our time.

Here’s a portrait of you I just finished. I’m a professional painter — doing fan art like this on the side (ha ha). Also, I’m sending you a video clip to illustrate how important your music is to me.

I had a really successful solo exhibition in Montreal in 2018. We sold all the large pieces, including a 6’X8’ group portrait I did of Francis Bacon, Cézanne, Giacometti, Rembrandt and me in the mirror (referring to Velasquez’s Meninas). I never thought I would sell this piece when I painted it. It was a personal fantasy. “Maybe one day it will hang in a museum” I thought. Well, a collector in the Philippines bought it after seeing it pop on his Instagram feed. It was an amazing experience. I had never sold such an expensive piece. Hollywood actor Josh Brolin also bought my portrait of Samuel Beckett.

So, at the end of the show, I played the third movement of your Grand Pianola in the gallery and broke loose. I never experienced something as exhilarating as this recent success. It changed my life I believe. And your music was and continues to be the emotional echo of this dream that came true. Un profound merci.

Mathieu Laca

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