It was the 1970s, and musician John Adams was tripping on LSD.
He was at the Marlborough concert in Vermont, and wandered into rehearsals for Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy”, sitting on Steinway with Rudolph Serkin, a well-known pianist.
Adams saw – or thought he saw – the piano beginning to stretch in a cartoonist long limousine. A similar fictionalized vision later came to him in a dream: he imagined driving down a California highway as two of Beatenov’s “Emperor” contro and “Hammerclavier” sonata make their way into the heroic veins, two Steinway grads passed him.
Both of these actual episodes contributed to Adams’ eclectic and playful “Grand Piano Music.” The piece, which premiered in 1982, had a turbulent early history, prompting a rare Chorus of Bose and drawing criticism as characteristic of American consumerism. Yet many people like it – it is enough to achieve stable recordings for many recordings, orchestra programs and their own Link to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Sound / Stage Streaming Series, on Friday.
It was also an earned taste for its creator. “I think I said fry something ‘Halilujah Junction’ Regarding the villain’s willingness to take ‘Grand Piano Music’ and shoot it, “Adams said in a recent interview referring to his 2008 memoir.
He said, “I’m glad I didn’t shoot it.”
If audiences were slow to accept “Grand Pianola Music”, then they might not have known what its rebellious rebellion would create. The beginning, a minimalist shimmer, was familiar territory – albeit one that scored exclusively for a trio of singers like Winds, Brass, Percussion, Two Pianos and Sirens. But the continuation of contemporary music, in defiance of prickly seriousness, was ultimately melodically sweet and open.
Elements foresaw Adams’ operas “Nixon in China” and “The Death of Klinghoffer”. At the time, however, “Grand Pianola Music” seemed a strange follow-up to sensual people “Harmonium,” And are not directly and sympathetically the natural predecessors of the cosmic “Hormonalare.”
“Adams said recently,” it starts like ‘Harmonium’. “Then I don’t know what happened. Instead of something people would expect, this crazy thing happened where I popped into B Flat Major, and the piano started beating, and I learned a little about myself: I have a bit of Mark Twain, I think , Because I went along with it. “
For the most part, however, “grand piano music” is not so grand. The prologue is a brief glimpse of the closing ceremony, but then there is peace and a slow passage that recalls the former beauty of American creators like Aaron Copland. (“At Hallelujah Junction”, Adams describes the work as part of a family of pieces that “stir up American-ness of my background, sometimes with wry humor and sometimes reserved, gentle melancholy” with.”
This first section takes more than two-thirds of the 30-minute running time, but Adams said it is the second and final part, “on the Dominant Divide”, that people remember. It is also that which attracted the most criticism.
It starts again with the piano flicker, on the brass parts that create tension until a wave of flattery arises from the pianists. As an antigen melody emerges as it recedes, what Adams refers to in his book as an “ur-melody” is not yet familiar. It is repeated, each time bordering on big and ultimately tasteless, but held back from a tipping point by a delicate balance of irony and reaching a climax with the only text in the piece: “Because I’ve seen the promised land . ” In something of a coda, the ensemble refills, then returns with its full sound, propelling it like an aircraft at takeoff – and ending as it takes off.
“John was in no way disguising some very amazing, big, inflammatory, weary qualities that are part of his temperament,” said conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, who has worked by Adams for decades, including music The director also includes the San Francisco Symphony from 1995 to 2020. “There is a luxury in sound, and I think a kind of ‘well, we all secretly admit that we love certain things, if we are pressed to reveal it.”
Adams held the 1982 premiere at the San Francisco Symphony’s new and unusual concert. This was, he said, “a minor catastrophe.” The singers performed with an operative sound, which made them realize that the piece required sound with directivity to the instruments of the air. And he respected the people on the score.
“I really thought,” Adams said, “that I had made a mistake with this piece.”
Mark Swade, now the Los Angeles Times Classical music critic, “Grand Piano Music” soon heard, at the Calatas Contemporary Music Festival – where, he said, its tune surprised everyone, serialized among works by publishers of European avant-garde.
“People were shocked,” he said. “We were still trying to get to know John. What happened? Did this man go towards the dark or what? “
Swayde said he was probably “pretty pretty about it, back then”, but he wasn’t No Enjoy it: “I didn’t know it was okay to enjoy it.”
“Grand Pianola Music” then traveled to the East Coast. Composer Jacob Druckman serialized it to the New York Philharmonic’s 83 Festival of Horizons (“The New Romanticism?”) And insisted on operating it.
The rehearsal was performed under the orchestra, Adams said, and at any rate Druckman did not have much experience as a conductor. Listened on an archival recording, the critical staccatoos of the piece are clearly articulated, and the finale is surprisingly subdued.
However, even more shocking is the audience reaction. People greet the new music even if they go out of the concert hall with the least polite applause. Avery Fisher Hall had something for “Grand Piano Music”; But there was also a large contingent of boons. They quickly calm down, but cash in on the moment when Adams comes on stage to take a bow with the players.
“It’s all about two or three people,” Adams said.
One of the piano artists, Ursula Opens, held Adams’s hand during the bow and said to her: “Oh my God, they really smell. Don’t you like it?”
Who was sowing, and why, it is a mystery. Sved, who traveled to New York for a Philharmonic concert, was suspected of a West-Coast bias; Audience response made him an immediate defender of this piece. The New York Times criticized John Rockwell, who Wrote a review Were saying that the piece was “a tribute” to “vitality” Later guessed The animosity was “a way for music modernists to resist the creeping tide of New Romanticism.” In fact, IRCAM, a publication founded by Pierre Beullez by the Avent-Garde French Electronic-Music Institute, compared Disney and McDonald’s America to “grand piano music”.
“We were still in the grip of very, very serious modernism,” Adams said. “There was this sense of gravity, that contemporary music was good for you the way spinach is. I think people felt that I was waving my nose at the whole concept of a contemporary music festival. “
He wasn’t. Adams said, “I think musicians like me – whether it’s Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’ or Beethoven’s Shirzos, or Mahler’s weird moments where there’s humor.” “And I’m never afraid of him.”
Episodes of levitation in Adams’s music; He compared the irony British dance girl aria “Klinghofer’s Death to the Coolie Scene in Macleth”. From that point of view, the finale of “Grand Piano Music” hardly sounds outrageous or unusual – or at all worthy of its initial reception.
Adams came around on the piece, eventually deciding it was “not so bad” and believing that he enjoyed organizing it. He led the capturing performance with a 2015 recording San francisco symphony, A double bill with “Absolute Jest”. It is the interpretation of sublime balance and expression, the meaning of its ending – Rev. Dr. Dr. “Advanced Land” by a reference clearly presented to Martin Luther King Jr.
A new generation of conductors has also taken up “Grand Piano Music”, such as Christian Reef, who presented it at the Mostly Mozart Festival in 2018 with members of the International Contemporary Ensemble. When Reef told Adams about the upcoming performance, the musician responded. , “Oh, you are doing that silly thing of mine.”
“There are so many things in this piece that I love his music,” Reif said in an interview. “The layering of the sound, the color palette of a large ensemble, the simplicity and the humility, but also the explosiveness and the big dramatic, heroic moments – he does not shy. It is unsurpassed, and we have revelations in it.”
Sound / stage episode of the Philharmonic in Los Angeles – featuring a recently taped performance by the Hollywood Bowl featuring landscape video art Deborah O’Grady, Adams’ wife – conductor Gustavo Dudmell called the work “one of my favorites”. His reading is impressive if only because the challenges of the piece, its inflexible rhythm and demanding absolute accuracy, are limited to plexiglass cubicles for all players.
“This is a real document of the epidemic,” Adams said.
Nevertheless, Dudamel put on a performance that transports evocation and amazement, enough to surprise a listener as to what all the negativity was in the early 1980s. Looking back, Sved said, “It seemed like John was selling outside.”
“But in a strange way,” he said, “perhaps what he was doing was really avant-garde.”