Thursday, February 10, 2011

John Adams times 2, and Los Angeles guitars times 4

Saturday is definitely John Adams day in these parts. Many music-lovers I know will watch the Met Opera's 1 PM HD simulcast of NIXON IN CHINA, in Peter Sellars' new production that's garnered enthusiastic reviews. I've had the pleasure of seeing/hearing it twice, both times at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), but about 15 or so years apart. It's a fantastic piece. (I love Nixon's exuberant line, "Prime time! Prime time in the USA!")  I've also heard Adams' EL NINO at the San Francisco Symphony, the premiere of DOCTOR ATOMIC at the San Francisco Opera (as well as the semi-staged performance by the Atlanta Symphony -- which reminded me of the profound beauty of one orchestral transition, the writing and sound of which is movingly of those unforgettable Adams moments).  A FLOWERING TREE at the Los Angeles Philharmonic (semi-staged by Peter Sellars, with Adams on the podium) was a special pleasure -- a work of grace and joy after the darkness of atomic destruction, preceded by a talk with Adams and Sellars that was wonderfully human and illuminating. A later trip to LA for THE DHARMA AT BIG SUR left me pondering a bit...but I have particular fondness for his early large-orchestra-and-chorus work, HARMONIUM, especially the final movement, "Wild Nights," to poetry of Emily Dickinson.  And if ever you get the opportunity to hear baritone Sanford Sylvan sing THE WOUND-DRESSER (to poetry of Walt Whitman), go, listen, and you'll be glad you did.  Phenomenally beautiful.

Adams is among our most admired and performed living composers, a true American original.  Obviously, I'm a big fan. Thus it's no surprise that I jumped on the opportunity to have the St. Lawrence String Quartet perform John Adams' 2009 STRING QUARTET for their return visit this Saturday, Feb 12, at 8:15 PM.  The Canadian Consulate General in Atlanta is graciously assisting us in welcoming these excellent Canadians back to Spivey Hall -- thus to Consul General Stephen Brereton and his colleagues, I offer my sincere thanks.

Adams' string quarrtet is in two movements, and Adams was inspired to write it purely on the strength of his pleasure in hearing the SLSQ perform (they are in residence at Stanford University) -- before anyone commissioned him to start writing, which is a rare occurrence for someone in such great demand, as Adams is. 

I got a chance to hear a pre-release copy of the SLSQ's recording of the Adams, and all I can say is, I cannot wait to hear it performed live.  So much of contemporary music comes most fully to life when there are human beings in front of you, creating the sound you hear as you also register all the non-aural messages as well.  There's definitely a meaningful theatrical dimension to "taking in" such a performance. I predict this is the sort of enthralling experience that awaits us Saturday.  Adams' music is characterzied by a unique energy and pulsating rhythms that, when ingeniously combined, both suspend and shift time.  At its best, when it taps the subconscious, the music is both mesmerizing and enthralling.  And though Adams and the word minimalism (in all its connotations) are inextricably linked, there is (again that word) a HUMAN quality to the writing that transcends technique and speaks to the spirit.

The SLSQ have played Adams' String Quartet nearly 60 times worldwide since they premiered it, and now Adams is writing a new work for the SLSQ and the San Francisco Symphony...which means I've gotta get on a plane and get myself out there for that premiere in mid-March 2012...another milestone in these artists' careers.  I have the feeling this collaboration of artists and place will yield another memorable experience.

In addition to the Adams, the SLSQ is will open with a Haydn quartet, the D-major Op. 74 No. 1 -- always a joy (life was so different then, but the pleasures of this music endure)-- and Mendelssohn's youthful, lively, brilliantly-written E-flat Quartet, Op. 12.  The St. Lawrence String Quartet consistently dwells in highest spheres of chamber-music excellence -- thus regular visitors here.  To enhance your listening experience, Clayton State University music faculty member Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller gives a free pre-concert talk at 7:30 PM.  Good seats are still available, so y'all come.

This Sunday, Feb 13, the LOS ANGELES GUITAR QUARTET's back in town for a 3 PM concert in one of the places in Atlanta where guitar sounds best...and there's free parking...and free Cokes at intermission...and remarakably reasonable ticket prices for artists of such high, wouldn't that be Spivey Hall...?!??! 

These four guitar virtuosos combine seamlessly as one, with marvelous unity of ensemble and subtlety of expression, and often a real sense of fun, too. This is seriously fine playing, offered up in a very good-natured way, with introductions of the pieces from the musicians often as humorous as they are informative.

On the program are some LAGQ favorites, including the Overture to THE BARBER OF SEVILLE by Rossini, and a suite from Bizet's opera, CARMEN  (We just had organist Todd Wilson give us a suite from CARMEN two weeks ago -- we're on a roll with CARMEN.  Such a loss that Bizet died so soon after its premiere, thinking the piece was a about great tunes!)  Plus, LAGQ member Bill Kanengiser has devised a suite of "Music from the Time of Cervantes" based on both popular and courtly Iberian dances. (Bill has also written enlightening program notes for the complete program).  And I'm curious to hear Peter Warlock's CAPRIOL SUITE -- a string orchestra piece transcribed for four guitars -- another throwback to the dance tunes of the past which convey such a lovely sense of grace and motion.

So another full weekend of music in store for us here.  What good is sitting alone in your room!?  Come hear the music play...(sorry, channeling Liza at the moment).  I have to get back to writing descriptions of all the artists to be presented in our 2011/12 season, in anticipation of our Season Announcement Celebration for the Friends of Spviey Hall on March 29, when our gorgeous new season book will be unveiled.

Last night's snow is melting fast, so don't succumb to any more winter weather hysteria (although, admittedly, Atlanta was NOT designed for snow).  Great music awaits.  (Will anyone, at the end of their lives, wistfully regret, "I wish I'd watched more television"? Think about it.)  Hope you'll be here to enjoy.


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