|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
Completing my Mostly Mozart Festival John Adams double play on Monday night was an all-Adams chamber music program at Alice Tully Hall's Starr Theater. The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) performed Shaker Loops (the septet version), Gnarly Buttons with guest clarinetist Michael Collins, and Son of Chamber Symphony all conducted by John Adams.
Unlike Sunday's performance of the John Adams opera, A Flowering Tree, the crowd at the ICE concert was slightly younger, definitely hipper (or maybe more stylish is a better description) and only marginally more diverse. And again unlike Sunday, there were a sprinkling of empty seats throughout the hall, although for all intents and purposes, it was quite full.
Shaker Loops, one of Adams' early works (and probably the one to jump start his fame) bounded open at a brisk pace, with both Adams and the strings, energetically shaking and looping throughout. Watching Adams bouncing along with the music, mimicking the forceful unison rhythmic passages, and giving spirited emotional directives with his conducting, made me wonder how much fun he must be having directing his music. Especially with this piece which has much youthful extroverted brio and elan, although echos of Adams to come are also present: energetic minimalistic cells; bubbling harmonic and rhythmic tension contrasted with a lovely slower and more static section; a general sense of optimism and hope.
Gnarly Buttons was next up and while I have heard this piece a few times on CD, listening on Monday night brought me a new found insight and admiration. The first movement, "The Perilous Shore", started with a plaintive solo clarinet melody moving into something that resembled a distilled Irish reel or jig. With the jagged lines and counterpoint and the sound color of the ensemble, "The Perilous Stone", and Gnarly Buttons in general, did bear some resemblance to Stravinsky's L'Historie-Octet-Les Noces period of the 1920's. The second movement, "Hoedown (Mad Cow)", was a sort of refracted cakewalk with jaunty syncopation and lively spirit as well as a few humorous moments (including a 'cow moo' sample from one of the keyboards). The ending of the movement was luminous with Michael Collins singing clarinet melody over calm balalaika-like mandolin strumming. The third movement, "Put Your Loving Arms Around Me", reminded me, especially with the open pulsation and flute melody and guitar figures, much of Naive and Sentimental Music and later of Harmonielehre with its harmonic changes and overall blending of more 'romantic' and minimalism gestures. The movement's end with an elegiac and prayer like tone, with the clarinet hovering on top of stillness, was beautifully rendered by Michael Collins and ICE.
After intermission and before the start of the second half, John Adams came out and spoke to the crowd. With a wry sense of humor, he informed us about the 'oedipal' problems of the printed program which had listed the titles of the upcoming Son of Chamber Symphony with the names of the progenitor Chamber Symphony. Then, giving the downbeat he and ICE were off into the first groove of the opening movement, with melodic lines flying around the stage like Olympic gymnasts. The second movement featured beautiful long-lined Adams' hyper-melodies' while the final movement had the energy of Shaker Loops but the texture and interlocking rhythms of Chamber Symphony. Overall, I found the Son a worthy off-spring of the Father. I overheard a number of people around me during the four! standing ovations say that that was their favorite piece of the night.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 11:35 PM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.