Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Name Game

The next few weeks sport the programming of some living composers whose names are confusingly similar. John Adams? John Luther Adams? Schoenberg? I will take it on myself to dispel any perfectly understandable confusion.

The March Masterworks concerts on March 17 and 18 will start with a work by American composer John Adams (b. 1947), The Chairman Dances, from his opera, Nixon in China, which garnered him a Grammy for Best Contemporary Composition. The excerpted work is not a dance, per se; the word “dances' refers to what the Chairman is doing. Mr. Adams' music is characterized as minimalist, and this work is energetic and enchanting. To the best of my knowledge, the composer is not related in any remarkable way to the Presidents Adams from early in our country's history. Many of Adams' works have been performed through the years by the KSO;  Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Gnarly Buttons, Shaker Loops, and the Chamber Symphony come to mind.

The KSO's contribution to the 2016 Big Ears Festival will include another Adams, this time John Luther Adams (b. 1953). Again, not related to the above-mentioned composer, or either president Adams. Also composing with a minimalist bent, Luther Adams' Pulitzer-Prize-winning soundscape Become Ocean will be one of the works presented on March 31 at the Tennessee Theatre. Whereas the Nixon in China music has a driving rhythmic infrastructure, Ocean uses slowly transforming slabs of sound to create waves of tension and spacey, absorbing sonic panoramas. The Big Ears Festival is an Alt-music Happening dedicated to avant-garde music and other media, drawing performers and audience members to Knoxville from every corner of the world, and taking place in 2016 from March 31 to April 2.

Finally, the April 14 and 15 Masterworks shows will open with Finding Rothko, by American composer Adam Schoenberg (b. 1980). Here again, no relation to the esteemed founder of the Twelve-tone method of composition, Arnold Schoenberg. This work uses more traditional compositional techniques with the addition of a bit of aleatoric (chance) note realization. A video featuring our April Guest Maestro Steven Jarvi interviewing the composer and discussing the four Mark Rothko paintings from which is drawn the inspiration for Finding Rothko is linked here.

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