'We are all living in fear'

How do you compose for a post-9/11 age? John Adams tells Guy Dammann how Bush's America, new technology and LSD have influenced him

John Adams is working on a new piece, but he can't describe it, he says, because it's not going well. "Starting is always hell. Right now, I'm the most unpleasant person to be around: grumpy, uncommunicative, selfish. I have a vague idea of what I want it to be, but it's just not working out. Worst of all, my wife won't listen any more."

Hearing Adams admit to self-doubt is something of a surprise. Now 61, the composer cemented his international reputation more than 20 years ago with Nixon in China, his opera about the former US president's extraordinary meetings with Mao Zedong. Next week, Dr Atomic, his 2005 opera about the testing of the first atomic bomb, receives its New York premiere at the Metropolitan Opera. This month also sees the publication of Adams' autobiography, Hallelujah Junction.

In music and in life, Adams chose a difficult route....

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