Wednesday, December 29, 2010

John Adams at San Francisco Symphony

Over at Civic Center, sfmike has a posting about John Adams's recent residency at San Francisco Symphony, including lists of three favorite Adams works by a bunch of people. You'll notice (or you won't notice) my absence; I couldn't come up with three favorites because I haven't heard most of my Adams recordings in a few years, and I didn't want to just throw out works at random.

Also, I'd heard El Nino the week before, and frankly, I hated it. Maybe what I hated was Adams's own conducting, but the piece just seemed stuck in one tempo, stuck on the endless syncopations, stuck harmonically, stuck stuck stuck. I continue to hate the flattening effect of the amplification - John, why don't you trust either your own orchestration or your singers? And while I thought Michelle DeYoung and Jessica Rivera were both swell, I could not bear Jonathan Lemalu's gray-toned shouting or the effect of the amplification on his sibilants. So I couldn't join in the general rejoicing about the piece. I know five people who walked out of the first performance, so it's not just me.

That said, a favorite or two. I think the music of Doctor Atomic is splendid; grand in scope and conception, beautifully executed. (The libretto, not so much. Undramatic, fragmentary, tough to hang an opera on, even though it does a provide a few excellent set pieces. It needs to lose the Native American child care provider and the clownish portrayal of General Leslie Groves.) But my favorite of all is Naive and Sentimental Music, one of the best new symphonic works I've heard in the last decade.

17 comments:

Steve Hicken said...

I've tried over and over to get Adams. I'll give NandSM another spin and see what happens.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm a big fan of the piece. I like the recording, but it killed me live.

Joe Barron said...

"... the piece just seemed stuck in one tempo, stuck on the endless syncopations, stuck harmonically, stuck stuck stuck."

And this differs from other Adams pieces exactly how?

Lisa Hirsch said...

His other pieces do NOT strike me as STUCK the way this did.

Joe Barron said...

Well, then, your impressions are different from mine. The thing that bothers me about Adams' music is that all of it seems to be done in big, bold strokes of bright primary colors. To my ear, there's no shading, no chiaroscuro. Such a scheme is fine for a nursery, but for the adult rooms I want more earth tones.

Hey, see my blog for a discussion of Denk Plays Ives.

Lisa Hirsch said...

N&SL and Dr. Atomic have plenty of shading!

I saw your Denk post the day it came out. Who do you like in Ives?

Joe Barron said...

Ah, so you're the one responsible for that hit. At the moment, for the Concord, I like Steven Meyer on Naxos and Nina Deutsch on Vox (out of print, but worth seeking out). The former is expansive, the latter concentrated (a twelve-minute difference in timing), but both work well. I also like Deutsch because she does the Emerson transcriptions, which are not recorded very often. I do wish Sony would reissue the Kirkpatrick's Concord on CD, but hey, we're dealing with Sony here. For the First Sonata, it's still Masselos and Mandel.

Have to disagree with you on DA and N&SM, though. Or, at least, the shading isn't enough for me. That whole color thing is as close as I can get to explaining my opinion of Adams.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I use Google Reader, so the hit is probably from, uh...Google Reader? Feedburner? rather than an IP address that could be associated with me personally.

Thank you for the Ives pointers! Re Adams, horse races, etc.

Joe Barron said...

I use stat counter. I don't know where the hits come from, only that they occur. It was a joke. I was trying to say I got only one hit.

Horse races? Some reference here I'm not getting?

Lisa Hirsch said...

"That's what makes horses races," as in, differences of opinion are part of what make life interesting.

Joe Barron said...

Oh come on, that is not an expression!

Lisa Hirsch said...

27,000 hits on Google disagree with you.

CK said...

I like most of John Adams' work. Naive & Sentimental Music, I believe, is Adams masterpiece. It doesn't seem to get the attention as Doctor Atomic or El Niño, probably because it's "just" an orchestral piece. I was privileged to be at the world premiere, and I've heard it three times live, all w/ Salonen conducting the LA Phil (though in different venues: DCP, WDCH, and Segerstrom Concert Hall). I think it has the clearest structure of any of his pieces, while still being quintessentially Adams. Along with Salonen's "LA Variations" and Lutoslawski's 4th Symphony, it is one of the top three pieces of contemporary "classical" music written in my lifetime that I enjoy listening to the most.

I remember MTT/SFS coming to So Cal to perform "Harmonielehre" and Beethoven's 5th Symphony. I really enjoyed MTT's take on the Adams; his Beethoven, not so much. Would love to hear Hormonielehre again.

I've played "City Noir" many times on my iPod and DVD, and I enjoy it -- it's still not quite as good as N&SM.

El Niño was certainly enjoyable as a concert experience. It was awesome to see/hear Dawn Upshaw, the late, great Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, and Willard White. I really could have done without Sellar's movie; so surprisingly, I don't really like listening to this work all that much. Despite the beautiful singing by the women, I think my favorite part is Willard White singing "Shake the Heavens" (gotta love the bold juxtaposition with Messiah on that one).

Just saw "Slonimsky's Earbox" performed again; Dudamel did a nice job with it. "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" was a lot of fun too. Haven't had the pleasure of seeing Century Rolls or Violin Concerto yet -- despite my best efforts, I always seem to have conflicts when those are performed locally.

The one piece a really, really dislike. Saw it live at WDCH the year the hall it opened with Silverman on the electric violin; saw it again recently with Josefowicz as soloist; I even downloaded it off of iTunes. I'm sorry -- it's a mess. I heard an interview with Adams where he pretty much admitted as much after the world premiere, leading to some revisions; even then, I've tried and tried, but I just can't get into it.

Bottom line: Less Dharma, more Naive and Sentimental Music

Lisa Hirsch said...

CK - welcome back, and thank you for the thoughtful and extensive comments! And apologies for the delayed reply.

I don't know the violin concerto, should check it out some time. I wonder if I would have liked El Nino better with LHL, but, really, De Young sang very well, could not complain about her.

I can't quite tell which piece it is that you really dislike - I think it got omitted somehow.

N&SM, yes!

Joe Barron said...

"that's what makes horses races"? It doesn't even make sense.

CK Dexter Haven said...

Sorry for the inadvertent deletion, Lisa . . . "Dharma at Big Sur" is the piece I don't like.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thank you! I think I have never heard it.