The John Adams Reader: Essential Writings
on an American Composer, ed. Thomas May
Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, about the marginalized fisherman accused of killing his apprentice, was originally written with six orchestral interludes, four of which Britten made into an orchestral work. The music moves from hauntingly jaunty and folksy melodies to the sweeping and destructive sounds of the sea, but the orchestra was woefully out of sync. Entrances cascaded from instrument to instrument, melodies lacked internal precision, and each orchestral section seemed incongruous with the next. Of particular note were John Adams’s motions, which often seemed to correspond to a completely different work than what was actually being performed. His gestures were often large and strict when the sound issued was gentle, among other inconsistencies. Whatever the problem with the players or conductor, there was certainly a disconnect. As a result, the Britten came off as wholly disjointed and lacked any precision or color.
The musicians were redeemed, however, in the next work, Adams’s The Dharma at Big Sur, which featured the brilliant Leila Josefowicz on electric violin. The juxtaposition of electric violin atop an entirely acoustic orchestra is a powerful sound and Josefowicz certainly has the chops for the piece, which is fairly non-stop for the violinist. Here, musicians and conductor finally connected in what became a beautifully rolling, raga-inspired seascape, and Josefowicz handled the part with grace and resilience. Adams’s other work on the program, the closing Doctor Atomic Symphony, was prefaced by a video of Gerald Finley, who created the role of Oppenheimer, singing the shattering aria that confronts Oppenheimer's invention and its devastating consequences. The symphony itself ends with this aria (played beautifully on the trumpet by Steven Hendrickson), built up to by eerie discordant sounds and “panic music” that captures all too well the frenetic energy surrounding the development of the bomb.
Anne Midgette, As flawed conductor, Adams offers insights into the music (Washington Post, May 21)
Armando Bayolo, The Dharma on the Potomac (Sequenza21/, May 21)
This concert will be repeated this afternoon (May 21, 1:30 pm) and tomorrow evening (May 22, 8 pm), in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.