Adams: The Dharma at Big Sur, My Father Knew Charles Ives

Adams: The Dharma at Big Sur, My Father Knew Charles Ives

5.0 2
by John Adams
     
 

These two big orchestral works by John Adams, both premiered in 2003, amount to a geographical autobiography in music: The Dharma at Big Sur, composed for the opening of Los Angeles' Disney Hall, distinctly captures the vibe of California, where Adams has spent most of his adult life, while My Father Knew Charles Ives looks back to the New England ofSee more details below

Overview

These two big orchestral works by John Adams, both premiered in 2003, amount to a geographical autobiography in music: The Dharma at Big Sur, composed for the opening of Los Angeles' Disney Hall, distinctly captures the vibe of California, where Adams has spent most of his adult life, while My Father Knew Charles Ives looks back to the New England of Adams's youth. The ambience of each piece is so different that it made sense for Nonesuch to package this as a two-disc set -- even though the program would fit comfortably on one -- for any more direct collision between East Coast and West would have been truly disorienting. While Big Sur begins as a nature portrait emerging from nothingness and slowly approaching tangibility, it's also a concerto for electric violin and orchestra, with soloist Tracy Silverman playing a six-string instrument that allows him to dip down into cello range. In the first movement, "A New Day," Silverman spins out an improvisational melody over the orchestra's shifting textures; the second half, titled "Sri Moonshine," gathers rhythmic momentum while flirting with the sounds of jazz, gamelan, and Indian raga, finally achieving an extended, ecstatic conclusion. As for My Father Knew Charles Ives, the title may be a fib -- Adams's father never met Ives -- but the music certainly bespeaks his admiration for the great New England composer, alluding at its very opening to the trumpet solo from The Unanswered Question and building to an Ivesian tune-collage in march tempo. If at first it seems like Adams should have named this triptych "Three More Places in New England," the travelogue abandons most of the Ives references as it progresses to a languorous nocturne in "The Lake" and the strenuous ascent of "The Mountain." Churning toward another blissful conclusion, the latter reveals its kinship to Big Sur: Both works showcase Adams's ability to channel the majesty of nature into musical form, just one of the talents that make him the most consistently impressive composer working in America today.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - James Manheim
The two works on this album reflect the West Coast and Northeastern sides of John Adams' musical personality. He has fused the two tendencies with uncommon elegance over the years, but here he allows himself the latitude to pay more direct homage to several predecessors who influenced him. "The Dharma at Big Sur" is a concerto for electric six-string violin and orchestra in two movements. Its most immediately striking aspect is the violin itself, played here by the performer who originated the work, Tracy Silverman. It encompasses the range of a violin plus a cello, and it's capable of extended dynamic range and of tones that range from the traditional melancholy to rock aggression. The work was composed for the opening of the new Disney Hall in Los Angeles, the acoustically strong new downtown home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Adams wrote into it subtle orchestral effects as well, deep layers of sound that emerge only intermittently. Adams dutifully described his piece as an evocation of the mystical, somewhat melancholy awe that the Easterner feels on experiencing Big Sur for the first time, but really there is not much in the music that evokes the oceanside. Instead, Adams draws on the music of California composer Lou Harrison, a major inspiration to all the composers with roots in the minimalist movement and a pioneer in transferring the principles of Asian musical traditions to the Western orchestra. His first movement, "A New Day," is akin to a juiced-up Indian instrumental improvisation, with the orchestra very subtly deployed in order to produce drones, sympathetic vibrations, and a final buildup of intensity. The energetic, jazzy second movement, "Sri Moonshine," is the one with the Indian name, but its consistent textures suggest the work of an American composer, Californian Terry Riley. The homages paid in the album's other work, "My Father Knew Charles Ives," are more explicit. Adams himself refers to the three movements as "three more 'places' in New England," and the Ivesian mix of programmatic suggestion and spiritual transcendence, which also played a key role in Adams' 9/11 work, "On the Transmigration of Souls," is on full display here. The final movement, "The Mountain," is a particularly awe-inspiring expression of the philosophy once stated by the country vocal trio the Sons of the Pioneers -- that "Mountains are altars of God" (in a song called "The Place Where I Worship Is the Wide-Open Spaces"). As he does with his West Coast models in "The Dharma at Big Sur," Adams extends Ives' language so that the music sounds like something completely his own; here he uses no electronic instruments, but the background is filled with swing jazz and other music Ives did not know during his compositional career. Adams himself leads the BBC Symphony, which responds beautifully to these complex scores that never sound overblown. The recordings are the product of some high-tech tweaking at two studios on the frontiers of sound, Abbey Road and Skywalker, but the end result is magnificent transparency. This is marvelous new music, colorful, spiritual, fun, accessible to anyone, yet full of the lines of connection that hold together and extend a tradition.
New York Times - Bernard Holland
These are two memoirs in sound.... [A] very desirable recording.
Newark Star-Ledger - Bradley Bambarger
In tandem, these wonderful recordings further the idea that Adams is the 21st century's signature American composer.
Fanfare - Robert Carl
An essential release -- and one of the best from Adams in a string of fine releases.

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Product Details

Release Date:
09/26/2006
Label:
Nonesuch
UPC:
0075597985726
catalogNumber:
79857
Rank:
78786

Related Subjects

Tracks

  1. The Dharma at Big Sur, concerto for electric violin & orchestra  - John Adams  - John Adams  -  BBC Symphony Orchestra  - Robert Hurwitz  - Tracy Silverman
  2. My Father Knew Charles Ives, for orchestra  - John Adams  - John Adams  -  BBC Symphony Orchestra  - Robert Hurwitz  - Bill Houghton

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

John Adams   Primary Artist

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