Along with composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass, John Adams is one of the Blessed Three American composers who've spent almost two decades signed to Nonesuch, a major label that issues and promotes their recordings with respectful regularity. Yet anyone in the classical music business will tell you that making money by composing is close to impossible. To survive you need to teach, tour, or tap into big-league commissions year after year.

John Adams has been a successful composer and I'm grateful. Unlike the legions of boring second-tier composers infesting Midwestern colleges or those basement denizens churning out cheesy MIDI versions of their 57th Symphony, Adams produces music that is usually good and sometimes great. The pieces that cemented his reputation--the orchestral work Harmonielehre (1985) and the opera Nixon in China (1987)--passionately blend the protean pulsation of Minimalism with an expansive symphonic grandeur inherited from Brahms and Sibelius.

In the long composer/conductor tradition that stretches from before Berlioz in the mid-1800s to Stravinsky and Copland in the mid-20th century, Adams tours extensively. For this Seattle stopover, he's conducting his Naíve and Sentimental Music, and two works by Finland's greatest composer, Jean Sibelius: the Violin Concerto (with Leila Josefowicz as the soloist) and Finlandia. Of course, orchestras play and record Sibelius all the time. But to hear how one master composer interprets another's music is a rare treat. CHRISTOPHER DeLAURENTI

John Adams conducts the Seattle Symphony Thurs Jan 29 at 7:30 pm, Sat Jan 31 at 8 pm, and Sun Feb 1 at 2 pm (Benaroya Hall, Third Ave and Union St, 215-4747), $12-$80. He discusses his music Fri Jan 30 at the Seattle Composers Salon (Soundbridge at Benaroya, Second Ave and Union St), 8 pm, $5 donation requested.

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