Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Other Mary Magdalen

The one that wasn't commissioned by San Francisco Opera, that is. Reviews of the new John Adams / Peter Sellars oratorio are starting to trickle in; I will update this as more become available:
  • Joshua Kosman in the Chron, quotation corrected ("resourceful and sprawlingly dynamic score," "fitting counterpart [to El Nino]")
  • Tim Mangan in San Francisco Classical Voice ("...a rather grueling evening of music....perhaps less would have been more")
  • Zachary Woolfe in the NY Times ("big and ambitious, churning but ultimately limp, with moments of beauty among the longeurs")
  • Mark Swed in the LA Times, who notes that Adams's 90-minute commission turned into 135. I'm having problems parsing this review, because Swed calls it a masterpiece but doesn't say why.
  • Alex Ross does not have a full review yet, but on his blog says "some of the strongest - and also some of the strangest - music of the composer's career."
  • Mr. CKDH at All is Yar ("...despite its many charms...ultimately a ponderous, disjointed work that falls apart under its own weight")
  • Brian Lauritzen of On the Air ("big and important")
  • Robert D. Thomas at Class Act ("very important, stunningly performed")
  • Brian at Out West Arts ("After two hearings, I'm still not sure if the piece is utter genius or something decidedly less memorable. But I do feel certain that this is a major step in a new direction for Adams.)
Okay, despite Mark Adamo's generous comments on his blog, the libretto sounds like an eclectic mess. I'm curious about the piece, but considering that I hated El Nino last time it was performed at SFS, maybe I'll give it a pass when it's fully staged next year.


sfmike said...

Thanks for all the links. It sounds like a major piece, and you can have your opinion of El Nino but I love the piece (and last year's performance), and can't wait to hear this even more ambitious sounding variation on the same thing.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'll contemplate whether or not to go to LA to hear it; I get down there once a year and will see what's going on operatically to see if I can make a weekend of it.

Joshua Kosman said...

Ahem. "Brilliantly innovative" = El Niño. Just for the record.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Ooops. I will correct that in a moment.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Fixed now.

Joshua Kosman said...

Thanks. Not that my prose is so mot-justy or anything, God knows. It's just that although I think there's a lot of great stuff in "The Gospel," I would never describe it as either brilliant or innovative.

If you hated El Niño (hated it? really? that seems like hating a newborn somehow), you could probably give this a miss too. Plus, if I had to guess (especially based on El Niño) I'd be inclined to expect Sellars' staging to be a net negative rather than the reverse. Though, as ever, who the hell knows.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Important to get the quotations right. I was reading too fast, obviously.

Yeah, hated. I run hot and cold on Adams, and that piece hit the cold spot, bigtime.

I remain puzzled that you disliked the cheery, short Foss riff on Bach at Mavericks, but liked Absolute Jest, which I found too long, too kinetic, and way, way too annoying. Conceptually, they're the same piece of music.

Joshua Kosman said...

Um, I think you're mistaking me for someone else, or reading too fast again :)

Me on Absolute Jest: "frenetic quasi-concerto...expends a lot of energy tugging on your sleeve and poking you rather hard in the ribs...more dense than deft...the general character of the piece is so hyperactive, and the textures so thickly matted, that these points often don't register." You could've written my review for me and it would've come out the same.

As for Foss, I confess to being generically irritated by nearly everything he did. I can't remember now whether I actually wrote this comment or merely drafted it mentally and then deleted it, but I consider him the Mitt Romney of contemporary music: He never encountered a musical idea or technique or style that he wouldn't embrace whole-heartedly as long as everyone else was doing it too. And as soon as the next thing came along he was all over that as well. I think his stuff is being kept alive by people like MTT who knew him personally and liked him; in another generation it'll all be gone for good.

Lisa Hirsch said...

My gosh. You're right. I could have written your review, if I'd had the patience to do it.

I think I need to stop reading all social media for a year or so. This is too embarrassing.

That's an interesting take on Foss, little of whose music I have heard. I will have to get some of it - and I'm glad you have now published that comment. :)

Lisa Hirsch said...

P. S. for a very overdue backward look at a particular SFS performance of the past year, I swear that I will carefully re-read your review before citing it. This is a performance I remember you and Janos liking a lot that I hated.

CK Dexter Haven said...

I hadn't touched my CDs of El Niño in years, but pulled them out and listened to them while I was completing my review.

It was better than I remember it; still not as good as, say, Naive and Sentimental Music, but I enjoyed listening to it. It was orders of magnitude more coherent than The Other Mary.

Just for good measure, I also listened to The Dharma at Big Sur for the first time since I heard it the year WDCH opened. I still didn't like it, but I didn't hate it as passionately as I did when I heard it originally. That's not saying much, but whatever Adams did to re-work it, it helped. Perhaps that bodes well for The Other Mary.

Adams's language has evolved quite a bit since El Niño. What did you think of City Noir? If you liked that as little as you liked El Niño, you should definitely skip The Other Mary

FWIW: I'm with Mr. Kosman that Sellars's future theatrical contribution are likely to harm more than they'll help.

Henry Holland said...

John Adams peaked with Nixon in China it's been all downhill since (I got off the bus completely after hearing Emmanuel Ax try to make something of his utterly mediocre piano concerto).

He has some gushing uncritical fanboys in high places *cough* Alex Ross *cough* but he still can't set text to save his life, and his music has become even more anonymous and unremarkable and soundtrack-like the more he moves away from the stuff like Common Tones in Simple Time. But hey, he's the one American composer who gets take seriously in Europe, so he's given a pass that no European modernist would get.

I still laugh at Alex Ross having a hissy fit because some Austrian critics didn't think A Flowering Tree was a blazing masterpiece. The nerve of them! Any person that wrote I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky not named John Adams would have been savaged, but even that ghastly piece still has fans among critics.

AND he's the New Music adviser at the LAP! The Green Umbrella series has been dire since he took over and I can't wait for his tenure to run out.

As for Mark Swed, that hack is another gushing Adams fanboy.

I'm having problems parsing this review, because Swed calls it a masterpiece but doesn't say why

Because a) it's John Adams and b) it's in the approved minimalist style, duh. I took the bit that puzzled you to mean "Well, it's not a very good piece on current form, but once he revises it, it'll be another masterpiece!". Because that's the problem with the piece, it hasn't been revised yet.

As the Pink Floyd songs goes

You're nearly a laugh
But you're really a cry

Fire Swed now and give the excellent Tim Mangan the job he should have gotten after Martin Bernheimer left, please LAT?

Lisa Hirsch said...

CK - I have El Nino on CD. Or maybe I don't? Wait, I'm thinking of A Flowering Tree. Naive & Sentimental Music is a great piece, the first Adams I got to know well. I haven't heard City Noir yet.

Henry, that is an excellent rant! I disagree about Adams going straight downhill since Nixon. That is one great opera, but he's written plenty of good music since then. Okay, the Doctor Atomic libretto needs help; love the music!

There are other American composers who get taken seriously in Europe....I think. Carter? :)