Adams conducts Adams with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich – Seen and Heard Worldwide


Switzerland Adams: Vikingur Ólafsson (piano), Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich / John Adams (conductor), Tonhalle, Zurich, 17.3.2022. (JR)

John Adams conducts John Adams (c) Alberto Venzago

Adams Quick journey in a quick machine, fanfare for big orchestra; Third Piano Concerto, Should the Satan Have All of the Good Tunes? (Swiss première); Naïve and Sentimental Music for big orchestra

This live performance offered extra materials with which to evaluate works by John Adams (now 75) which one could not know so nicely.  It was a privilege to witness a up to date composer conduct his personal works: this was a live performance to inform the grandchildren about.

In a pre-concert interview, Adams admitted that Adams the composer was extra of an introvert and didn’t discover it notably straightforward to face in entrance of 100 musicians and play the extrovert.  Not each composer is an efficient conductor of his personal work, however Adams proved a consummate conductor, with a crisp and clear beat. He communicated not solely the entries and sophisticated rhythms but in addition the imaginative and prescient behind the works.

Quick journey in a quick machine was written on the request of Michael Tilson Thomas and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to open a brand new competition, Nice Woods in Mansfield, Massachusetts in 1986.  It has confirmed to be one in all Adams’ hottest works, despite the fact that it lasts solely simply over 4 minutes. It begins with a solo woodblock and develops right into a energetic fanfare, filled with pulsating rhythm. As a commentary on the title, Adams says, “You understand how it’s when somebody asks you to journey in a terrific sports activities automobile, and then you definitely want you hadn’t?”  The work is an instance of Adams’s post-minimal fashion, as utilized in in his opera Nixon in China.  Adams revels in using a big orchestra and employs a palette of instrumental color.  The expanded commonplace symphony orchestra included xylophone, crotales, glockenspiel, sizzle cymbal, suspended cymbal, tambourine, massive tam-tam, and synthesizers.  Dynamics are loud; the tempo is frenzied.  It’s a brilliant, completely satisfied piece of music which is clearly very tough to play however loads of enjoyable.  The viewers lapped it up.

Music of this complexity all the time brings with it a component of hazard.  Play it slowly and punctiliously and the joys is lacking; play it with wild abandon and it’ll definitely excite however can collapse.  The Tonhalle Orchestra (who should not have this music of their blood) managed to throw warning to the wind, and – one percussion entry aside – succeeded in holding it collectively and thrilling the viewers.

Vikingur Ólafsson (c) Alberto Venzago

Should the Satan Have All of the Good Tunes? is the intriguing title of Adams’ third piano concerto, fusing components of swing and boogie-woogie with John Adams’ post-minimalist vocabulary.  Ólafsson delivered a tour de power, hardly stopping to relaxation.  He attacked the keyboard within the outer actions with fiendish power, demonic swagger and athleticism, solely the central motion permitting everybody to relaxation and dream.  Adams matched the soloist with energy and environment aplenty from the orchestra.

The viewers applauded Ólafsson’s virtuosity lengthy and laborious, and have been rewarded with a delicate encore, Ave Maria by Icelandic composer Sigvaldi Kaldalóns (arr. Vikingur Ólafsson).  Ólafsson devoted the encore to the victims in Ukraine.

Naïve and Sentimental Music for big orchestra adopted after the interval.  ‘This explicit piece‚’ Adams writes‚ ‘maybe greater than any of my others‚ makes an attempt to permit the naïve in me to talk‚ to let it play freely.’  A symphony in all however identify‚ Naïve and Sentimental Music is solid in three actions.  The primary motion is an ‘essay on melody‚’ constructed round an expansive theme (first performed on three flutes) that step by step unfolds.  Strumming guitar and harps play an necessary half. The motion ends in ferocious cacophony with all six percussions hammering away.  The second motion‚ subtitled ‘Mom of Man’‚ is a gloss on a little bit identified work by Busoni, his Berceuse élégiaque.  It’s radiant and mournful‚ using unsettling harmonies. Orchestral color is offered by way of a guitar, and continuous bowed vibraphone and glockenspiel.

Adams titled the finale ‘Chain to the Rhythm’.  No melody to talk of however a blinding mosaic of sound, full with tinkly percussion, a loud Coda and an abrupt ending with the horns blaring into the void.  The work, in contrast to Harmonielehre, can’t be described as a populist work, it’s avowedly not a crowd-pleaser.  There is just one melody to hum; it’s nevertheless an intriguing composition. Adams led the orchestra in a robust efficiency that emphasised his ingenious orchestration.

Adams’ works shouldn’t be heard on CD or watched on YouTube.  They must be seen and heard ‘dwell’.  There’s a lot to look at, notably within the percussion part; and the quantity must be unfettered.

In live shows carried out by Paavo Järvi subsequent week, Zurich concertgoers have extra tempting probabilities to pattern but extra of Adams’s lesser-known works, together with My Father Knew Charles Ives, I Nonetheless Dance, Slonimsky’s Earbox, Tromba lontana and Lollapalooza.  Intriguing titles, intriguing music.

John Rhodes

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