John Adams

Things have been a bit quiet here on the Festival blog, but we’ve been busy behind the scenes planning for the next Festival adventure, which is just around the corner. Tickets just went on sale for our 2012-2013 WinterMezzo chamber music series, and we’re excited that Scott Yoo, music director and violin, and John Novacek, piano will be performing a progressive program dedicated to exploring the intricacies of rhythm this November 2-4, 2012. 

We’ll be exploring the pieces and content of these upcoming performances here on the festival blog in the coming months. Here’s the first in that series.

Scott and John will be performing a piece by American composer and Pulitzer Prize-winner John Adams, titled Road Movies. Adams is perhaps best known as the composer of the opera Nixon in China (click the link to watch the first act of the opera). A post-minimalist, Adams focuses on patterns and rhythms in his work but employs more melodic lines to give the pieces more directional qualities. Here’s what he had to say about Road Movies:

After years of studiously avoiding the chamber music format I have suddenly begun to compose for the medium in real earnest. The 1992 Chamber Symphony was followed by the string quartet, John’s Book of Alleged Dances, written for Kronos in 1994, and now comes Road Movies. For years the chamber music scenario remained a not particularly fertile bed in which to grow my musical ideas. My music of the ’70’s and 80’s was principally about massed sonorities and the physical and emotional potency of big walls of triadic harmony.

These musical gestures were not really germane to chamber music with its democratic parceling of roles, its transparency and timbral delicacy. Moreover, the challenge of writing melodically, something that chamber music demands above and beyond all else, was yet to be solved.

Fortunately, a breakthrough in melodic writing came about during the writing of The Death of Klinghoffer, an opera whose subject and mood required a whole new appraisal of my musical language.

The title “Road Movies” is total whimsy, probably suggested by the “groove” in the piano part, all of which is required to be played in a “swing” mode (second and fourth of every group of four notes are played slightly late).

Movement I is a relaxed drive down a not unfamiliar road. Material is recirculated in a sequence of recalls that suggest a rondo form.

Movement II is a simple meditation of several small motives. A solitary figure in a empty desert landscape.

Movement III is for four wheel drives only, a big perpetual motion machine called “40% Swing”. On modern MIDI sequencers the desired amount of swing can be adjusted with almost ridiculous accuracy. 40% provides a giddy, bouncy ride, somewhere between an Ives ragtime and a long rideout by the Goodman Orchestra, circa 1939. It is very difficult for violin and piano to maintain over the seven-minute stretch, especially in the tricky cross-hand style of the piano part. Relax, and leave the driving to us.

– John Adams, September 1995

To listen to a clip of Road Movies, click here. We hope to see you in November to hear this and works by Beethoven and Padre Antonio Soler the best way – in a live performance!

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