John Adams in Paris

March 31, 2010

Last weekend I attended a concert of the music of John Adams performed by the Dutch Asko/Schönberg Ensemble and buoyantly directed by the magnanimous composer himself.
I first discovered his music in 2008 when my cousin lent me a copy of the cd recording of Johns’ Book of Alleged Dances and Gnarly Buttons, a gesture of unconscious, eery foresight on his end, as only a few months later I was asked to play the banjo in the first movement of Gnarly with the Metropolis Ensemble for a performance in NYC in January 2009 (during which my UK-based band performed a piece dedicated to us by our good friend and ingenious composer David Bruce on whom I hope to do a post at some later point). It was the first time I’ve ever had to read sheet music for the banjo!
Any music that makes no attempt to fit into a particularly category, that in fact relishes spicing the compositional cauldron up with sundry ingredients is immediately of interest to me. Naturally, Adams’ music is contemporary classical (whatever that means) with its predominant use of orchestral ensembles. However, it also calls on occasion for synthesizer, or as in my case banjo, and also guitar and mandolin. Its roots are in minimalism, but it quickly transcends any movement or genre.
Three of Adams’ pieces were performed: Chamber Symphony, Shaker Loops, and Son of Chamber Symphony. My favorite was Shaker Loops, which was inspired by his childhood in New England. The title is a sort of double entendre referring to both the music and dance of the Shakers, a congregation of which lived in a nearby township, and the shaking of a bow on strings. The Shakers expressed their piety by way of frenetic dancing culminating in a sort of physical and spiritual exaltation. Adams used this dynamic, ecstatic, spiritualized energy to contrast with the mechanical undercurrent of minimalism that ran through his work. It has ended up being one of his most popular pieces.
In any case, the concert was magical. It was one of those nights where you walk out of the concert hall with a nourished soul and a lightness in your step.

Shaker Loops_ I. Shaking and Trembling – John Adams, LSO & Orch. St Luke’s

From the John’s Book of Alleged Dances/Gnarly Buttons cd, this short little ditty, performed by Kronos Quartet, just rocks. What a backbeat! I love that the titles of the tracks on the Alleged Dances have all sorts of uncouth names like Toot Nipple, Dogjam, and Stubble Crotchet.

Rag The Bone – John Adams, Kronos Quartet, John’s Book of Alleged Dances


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