NEW WORLD SYMPHONY
JOHN ADAMS/ TRACY SILVERMAN (3-22-08)
ADAMS CONDUCTS NEW WORLD SYMPHONY IN RADIANT,
HIGH ENERGY PERFORMANCE
By Lawrence Budmen
John Adams may be the quintessential American composer of the 21st century. Whereas forerunner Aaron Coplandís music took its inspiration from the Great Plains and the nostalgia of rural America, Adamís scores are driven by the bustling energy of the cities and majestic beauty of the California coastline.
Adams has transcended repetitive minimalism. Rejecting serialism, he still manages to suggest tonal ambiguity amidst surging rhythms and clashing instrumental colors.
On Saturday the composer bounded onto the stage of Miami Beachís Lincoln Theater to lead the New World Symphony in three of his works. At sixty, his creative muse is as strong as ever and he has carved out an important second career as a conductor of contemporary music.
Adams offered two of his more recent scores and, as an opener, Slonimskyís Earbox, an exhilarating 1995 toccata. Written in tribute to conductor-musicologist Nicholas Slonimsky, the score combines Baroque cadences with thematic material that would not have been out of place in Coplandís Rodeo. Colorful writing for mallet percussion and a gorgeous viola solo highlight Adamsí spontaneous flow of invention.
Responding to the composerís robust direction, the players brought high energy and radiant timbres to this curtain raiser. They were even more impressive in The Dharma at Big Sur, Adamsí innovative 2003 concerto for electric violin and orchestra.
Inspired by the architecture of Frank Gehry and the playing of jazz-rock-World Music fusion artist Tracy Silverman, Adams has created his most adventurous score yet. In the two part form of an Indian raga, the concertoís slow first movement - A New Day - pays tribute to pioneering West Coast composer Lou Harrison, whose fascination with the Javanese gamelan is mirrored in Adamsí ethereal waves of gongs and brass while luminous strings soar in rhapsodic flight.
The second section Sri Moonshine is dedicated to minimalist composer Terry Riley. A touch of jazz and country-western fiddling leads to a final cloudburst of brass, percussion and electrified violin in a rock inflected coda of unrelenting energy. Using unconventional, non-Western tuning for the violin soloist, two harps and piano, Adams has created a new soundscape that mirrors Pan Asian cultural influences.
Tracy Silverman is a true virtuoso of the six string electric violin Producing a gutsy, hard edged sound, he whirled through the concertoí s bravura episodes and offered floods of serene stasis as the violin rose ever higher (through his instrumentís extended range) over the orchestral kaleidoscope.
Adamsí recent Doctor Atomic Symphony develops material from the composerís operatic depiction of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the testing of the first atomic bomb. Opening with a nod to scores for 1950ís science fiction movies written by such Hollywood composers as David Tamkin, this symphonic synthesis concludes with an eloquent Passacaglia, a trumpet solo that ruminates in haunting melodic and harmonic progressions.