A John Adams Christmas oratorio

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Friday, January 11, 2019

It was a matter of some debate as the year 1999 drew to a close whether—chronologically speaking—the new Millennium really began in 2000 or 2001. As far as the musical world was concerned, why wait? The shift from 1999 to 2000 proved to be the occasion for hundreds of celebratory concerts and special commissions worldwide.

While not originally intended as part of the Millennium celebrations, a major new work of the American composer John Adams had its European premiere in December of 1999 and its American debut in January of 2000.

Years before, the San Francisco Symphony had asked Adams to write a big work for their chorus and orchestra. Then came a request from the Châtelet Theater in Paris for a new opera. Adams combined both requests, folding in a dream of his own. As he put it: “I wanted to write a Messiah.” The result was a Nativity oratorio titled “El Nino” —a work for soloists, chorus and orchestra that could be performed as both a concert hall piece and/or a fully staged theatrical work.

Kent Nagano conducted El Nino’s world premiere in Paris on December 15, 1999, and the same cast and conductor gave its American premiere in San Francisco on today’s date in 2000.