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John Adams Earbox: A 10-CD Retrospective
     

The John Adams Earbox: A 10-CD Retrospective

by John Adams
 
In the late 1970s, minimalism was on the cutting edge. When Philip Glass presented Einstein on the Beach at the Metropolitan Opera house in 1976, he was invading a bastion of the classical music establishment. Of course, as Glass, Steve Reich, and other minimalists became popular, it was inevitable that

Overview

In the late 1970s, minimalism was on the cutting edge. When Philip Glass presented Einstein on the Beach at the Metropolitan Opera house in 1976, he was invading a bastion of the classical music establishment. Of course, as Glass, Steve Reich, and other minimalists became popular, it was inevitable that they would abandon downtown art galleries and loft apartments to play in large concert halls that could contain their growing legions of fans. Their style hadn't changed, it was simply that minimalism was "in." It was also in the late '70s that a young, Harvard-trained composer named John Adams embraced minimalism. Like Glass, Adams found the high modernism of Pierre Boulez and his cohorts to be a dead end. Minimalism offered Adams a chance to use what he has said are "the musical elements...absolutely essential to the listening process: pulsation, tonality, and repetition." But from his very first minimalist works -- Phrygian Gates (1977) and Shaker Loops (1978) -- he went his own way, writing music expressly for the concert hall. Harmonium (1981) for chorus and orchestra, and Harmonielehre (1985) for orchestra are pieces made to fit into a traditional symphonic program. And while Adams rightly claims that his musical forms are original, the overall structures of his works are familiar enough to make classical concertgoers feel at home. (For example, the fast-slow-fast configuration of Harmonielehre has the same general shape as a traditional symphony.)

What really sets Adams apart from his minimalist forebears is the variety and emotional power of his music. Adams never allowed himself to be hemmed in by minimalism's constraints, as Earbox, this ten-CD retrospective, clearly demonstrates. Adams appropriated the basic language of minimalism as a means to present larger ideas. Listen to "The Chairman Dances" (1985), an outtake from the opera Nixon in China. The rhythmic pulse and repetition of minimalism are there, all right, but the music traces a wide arc of emotions, from relentless energy to sensuous sentimentality -- all cloaked in gleaming, glittering orchestral garb. It's the modern American equivalent to Ravel's La Valse.

Earbox (taken from a title of one of Adams's recent pieces) not only offers ample evidence of his genius, it's a sweeping record of his development as a composer. The jagged melodic lines of the Chamber Symphony (1992) may sound far removed from the smoothly rippled textures of Grand Pianola Music (1982), yet in both works, the verve, the humor, the painterly use of color, and the unerring sense of drama are unmistakably Adams. Earbox doesn't present the complete Adams -- Phrygian Gates, his first minimalist work, is not here, and we only get excerpts from the two operas, Nixon and The Death of Klinghoffer -- but the ten generously filled discs present a vivid portrait of this modern master. From chamber music (John's Book of Alleged Dances, written for the Kronos Quartet) to symphonic works to musical theater (I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky), he has already enriched the repertory immeasurably. The performances, many of them conducted by the composer himself, are consistently compelling. The lavish presentation -- adorned with a series of ten eye-catching photographs -- is appropriately clever and classy. Earbox is essential listening for anyone interested in the music of our time.

Editorial Reviews

Gramophone - Rob Cowan
Earbox affords us the invaluable opportunity of weighing up the relative virtues of a major modern composer whose style is still developing. It's all there, at least everything released by Nonesuch, and the consistently fine sound quality (much of it produced by Wilhelm Hellweg) helps keep the listener's attentions centred firmly on the music.

Product Details

Release Date:
10/19/1999
Label:
Nonesuch
UPC:
0075597945324
catalogNumber:
79453

Tracks

  1. Harmonium, for chorus & orchestra
  2. Shaker Loops, for 7 strings or string orchestra
  3. The Chairman Dances, foxtrot for orchestra
  4. Grand Pianola Music, for 3 sopranos, 2 pianos, winds, brass & percussion
  5. Fearful Symmetries, for orchestra
  6. Nixon in China, opera: Act 1. Scene 1. Opening
  7. Nixon in China, opera: Act 1. Scene 1. "Soldiers of heaven hold the sky"
  8. Nixon in China, opera: Act 1. Scene 1. "The people are the heroes now"
  9. Nixon in China, opera: Act 1. Scene 1. Landing of The Spirit of '76
  10. Nixon in China, opera: Act 1. Scene 1. "Your flight was smooth, I hope?"
  11. Nixon in China, opera: Act 1. Scene 1. "News has kind of mystery:"
  12. Nixon in China, opera: Act 1. Scene 3. "Ladies & gentlemen, Comrades & fr
  13. Nixon in China, opera: Act 1. Scene 3. "Mr. Premier, distinguished guests
  14. Nixon in China, opera: Act 1. Scene 3. Cheers
  15. Nixon in China, opera: Act 2. Scene 1. "This is prophetic!"
  16. Nixon in China, opera: Act 2. Scene 2. Opening
  17. Nixon in China, opera: Act 2. Scene 2. "Oh what a day / I thought I'd die
  18. Nixon in China, opera: Act 2. Scene 2. "Whip her to death!"
  19. Nixon in China, opera: Act 2. Scene 2. "I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung"
  20. Nixon in China, opera: Act 3. "Let us examine what you did."
  21. Nixon in China, opera: Act 3. "When I woke up"
  22. Nixon in China, opera: Act 3. "I have no offspring."
  23. Nixon in China, opera: Act 3. "I can keep still,"
  24. Nixon in China, opera: Act 3. "After that - / The sweat / Had soaked my u
  25. Nixon in China, opera: Act 3. "Peking watches the stars,"
  26. Nixon in China, opera: Act 3. "You won at poker."
  27. Nixon in China, opera: Act 3. "I am old & cannot sleep"
  28. The Wound-Dresser, for baritone & orchestra
  29. Christian Zeal and Activity, for chamber ensemble
  30. Thoreau, song for voice & piano, S. 373 (K. 6B52)
  31. Down East, song for voice & piano, S. 236 (K. 6B60b)
  32. Cradle Song, song for voice & piano, S. 233 (K. 6B60a)
  33. At the River, song for voice & piano, S. 214 (K. 6B54)
  34. Serenity, song for voice & piano, S. 347 (K. 6B60d)
  35. Eros Piano, for piano & orchestra
  36. The Death of Klinghoffer, opera: Prologue. Chorus of the Exiled Palestinians
  37. The Death of Klinghoffer, opera: Prologue. Chorus of the Exiled Jews
  38. The Death of Klinghoffer, opera: Act 1. Scene 1. "It was just after 1:15"
  39. The Death of Klinghoffer, opera: Act 1. Scene 1. " My Grandson Didi, who was two"
  40. The Death of Klinghoffer, opera: Act 1. Scene 1. "Give these orders"
  41. The Death of Klinghoffer, opera: Act 1. Scene 1. "So I said to my grandson"
  42. The Death of Klinghoffer, opera: Act 1. Scene 1. "We are sorry for you"
  43. The Death of Klinghoffer, opera: Act 1. Scene 1. Night Chorus
  44. The Death of Klinghoffer, opera: Act 1. Scene 1. Chorus of Hagar & the Angel
  45. The Death of Klinghoffer, opera: Act 2. Scene 1. "I've never been a violent man"
  46. The Death of Klinghoffer, opera: Act 2. Scene 1. "You are always complaining of you
  47. The Death of Klinghoffer, opera: Act 2. Scene 2. Aria of the Falling Body (Gymnopéd
  48. The Death of Klinghoffer, opera: Act 2. Scene 2. Day Chorus
  49. Tromba Lontana, fanfare for orchestra
  50. Short Ride in a Fast Machine, fanfare for orchestra
  51. Common Tones in Simple Time for orchestra
  52. El Dorado, for orchestra
  53. Harmonielehre, for orchestra
  54. Violin Concerto
  55. Chamber Symphony
  56. Hoodoo Zephyr, for electronics: Tundra
  57. Hoodoo Zephyr, for electronics: Disappointment Lake
  58. Hoodoo Zephyr, for electronics: Hoodoo Zephyr
  59. Gnarly Buttons, for clarinet & ensemble
  60. I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky, songplay
  61. Lollapalooza, for orchestra
  62. John's Book of Alleged Dances, for string quartet
  63. Slonimsky's Earbox, for orchestra

Album Credits

Performance Credits

John Adams   Primary Artist

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