September 18, 2008


A thousand flowers: In his seventh decade, John Adams's musical fertility still springs anew (Ian Irvine, 18 September 2008, New Statesman)

John Adams is 61. How did that happen? For all my adult life he has been one of the most important figures in the contemporary classical musical world. From his earliest major works, such as Shaker Loops (1978) and Harmonium (1980-81), he has possessed a fresh, young voice, ripe with possibilities. He forged his own rich and expressive musical language that could speak to a mainstream audience out of the exciting but austere minimalism of composers such as Steve Reich combined with other influences of his time, from the rock and pop of, say, the Beach Boys and the Supremes, through the jazz of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, to the great American mid-century musicals and some eccentrics such as John Cage and the British composer Cornelius Cardew, with his Scratch Orchestra.

Adams was a leading player in the long march away from the post-Schoenbergian serialism that dominated postwar music and diminished concert audiences until the 1970s. In his autobiography, Hallelujah Junction (Faber & Faber), due to be published on 2 October, he quotes from the composer Milton Babbitt's notorious 1958 essay "Who Cares If You Listen?":

The time has passed when the normally well-educated man without special preparation could understand the most advanced work in . . . mathematics, philosophy and physics. Advanced music . . . scarcely can be expected to appear more intelligible than these arts and sciences to the person whose musical education usually has been even less extensive than his background in other fields.

To escape such arrogance and elitism, Adams moved from Harvard to the west coast.

One is reminded of the story of America's salutaryeffect on Stravinsky.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2008 8:06 AM
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