This German-born composer and conductor came to the United States in 1939. He was educated at Boston University and Harvard, and holds honorary doctorates from Southern Methodist University, Wake Forest University, St. Mary's Notre-Dame, and the St. Louis Conservatory. He studied composition with Herbert Fromm, Walter Piston, Randall Thompson, Paul Hindemith, and Aaron Copland, and conducting with Sergey Koussevitzky.
During his tenure in the U.S. Army, he founded and conducted the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra, which exercised an important psychological and musical impact in Europe. For that effort, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. From 1957 to 1977, Adler was a professor of composition at the University of North Texas; from 1953 to 1966 he was music director at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX; and from 1955 to 1966, he was an instructor of fine arts at the Hockaday School in Dallas, TX. From 1954 to 1958, he was music director of the Dallas Lyric Theater and the Dallas Chorale.
In 1966, he taught at the Eastman School of Music, where he remained until 1995. He is a Professor Emeritus at Eastman, and since 1997, he has taught composition at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Adler has given master classes and workshops at more than 300 universities and has taught at major summer music festivals. He continues to receive major commissions and conduct orchestras throughout the world.
Adler is a prolific composer who has created more than 400 published works, including five operas; six symphonies; 12 concerti; eight string quartets; four oratorios; and many other orchestral, band, chamber, and choral works and songs.
Many of the works reflect humanist concerns, such as The Fixed Desire of the Human Heart, An Homage to Woodrow Wilson's Vision of World Peace "in which consolation and resolve surface against a backdrop of horror and grief;" the cantata Stars in the Dust (1988), which explores the horrors of Kristallnacht and incorporates traditional Jewish tunes; Bridges to Span Adversity for Harpsichord Solo (1989); and Show an Affirming Flame for Orchestra (2001), commissioned by the New York Chamber Symphony in memory of the victims of the attacks on September 11, 2001.
Adler's concerti are especially effective pieces rich in texture and modulation of moods with splendid virtuoso parts, especially the Concerto "Shir Hamaalot" for Solo Woodwind Quintet (1991), Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra (1994), Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1995), Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra (1997), and Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (2000). The composer also has a delightfully corny side, which comes across in his solo and small chamber works, such as the Four Studies for Woodwinds: Flaunting for Flute, Oboration for Oboe, Clarinon for Clarinet, and Bassoonery for Bassoon (1965); Art Creates Artists for Orchestra (1996); Scherzo Schmerzo for Four Trumpets, Horn, Four Trombones, Tuba, and Percussion (2000); and in a lesser, more lighthearted manner, Acrostics (Four Games for Six Players for flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, violincello, and harpsichord (1988).