Tuesday, February 21, 2006

How John Adams Became A Defining Voice Of American Contemporary Music

..."[John] Adams - more than Reilly, Glass or Reich - has become the defining voice of American contemporary music. By embracing minimalism in the 1970s he was making a declaration of independence - against the central European avant-garde techniques of Schoenberg and his [student in Los Angeles] John Cage, which troubled him.

"The options were grim," he says. "I felt the 1960s and 1970s were a time of enormous orthodoxy. Contemporary classical music had become marginalised and did not have any cultural importance any more. It was a tiny, tiny sliver of the cultural spectrum. The moment I experienced minimalism, something thrilled me. It had all the essential elements of music, without the alienation."

Could it only have happened in America? "We've been much more open to influences outside the classical canon. I was a child of the generation of rock and jazz. As a teenager and young composer, the influences around me ranged from Ellington and Coltrane to Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix." Generally, he argues, American composers have tried to say something simply and directly. "A lot of our great writers - Hemingway, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson - were psychologically very acute, but their rhetoric always remained simple."

In his stage works, either the "terrorist" opera The Death of Klinghoffer, or Doctor Atomic - based on the story of J Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb - he has never shied from controversial political and moral debate. He claims there's nothing outwardly political or moralising about On the Transmigration of Souls, though. Its strength lies in a musical expression that is deeply individual, dynamic, potent and, most of all, relevant to the world he lives in. The critic Paul Griffiths recently wrote of Adams' music: "The lessons of modernism are intriguingly refracted, and made to combine with those of the Romantic past and commercial present."" ...

Kenneth Walton "Soothing the pain of terror with a personal memorial" The Scotsman February 20, 2006. news.scotsman.com/features.cfm?id=260662006

September 11, 2001 Memorial Light Show on September 11, 2005.

Photo credit: Brent Burket via www.creativetime.org With thanks.


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