Friday, December 09, 2016

London Symphony Orchestra concert - John Adams at 70

8 December 2016

On Thursday I enjoyed a real musical treat – watching the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican celebrating the 70th birthday of the American composer John Adams. Adams conducted pieces by Bartok and Stravinsky, illustrating some of the traditions in which his own very modern musical style is rooted. You could hear distinct echoes of John Adams in both Bartok's folk music-inspired 'Hungarian Sketches' and Stravinsky's eerie evocation of ancient Greece in the music from the ballet 'Orpheus'. But the main attraction was the performance of Adams' latest composition 'Scheherazade.2' - a piece for solo violin and orchestra, premiered in 2015. Adams explained to the audience that, rather than calling the work a concerto, he had taken the idea of a 'dramatic symphony' from Berlioz and had created four movements which follow a rough narrative, telling the story of a modern, feminist Scheherazade who "speaks truth to power".  Instead of charming her captive to avoid death, this Scheherazade stands up to her tormentors, falls in love, defends herself in a trial and flees to sanctuary. The piece was written for the Canadian violinist Leila Josefowicz and it was a privilege to see her perform it, conducted by the composer. Adams described Josefowicz as "the Lisbeth Salander of the violin" and she definitely displayed a punk-like flair, her restless energy causing her to pace back and forth while waiting to play. Her violent playing sometimes seemed to pull her feet across the stage. This was the violinist as rock star, her stance reminding me of the defiant pose of Martha Wainwright (reviewed here in July 2008). Like much of Adams' music, the symphony was incredibly entertaining – complex and quirky but never inaccessible, with some beautifully serene moments. The narrative structure, unusual soundscapes and character soloist reminded me of Jan Sandström's 'Motorbike Concerto' which I saw Christian Lindbergh perform with the Halle Orchestra about 20 years ago (if you don't know it do look it up on YouTube). Thursday's LSO concert was a similarly wonderful experience that will also live long in my memory. You can see John Adams and Leila Josefowicz talking about 'Scheherazade.2' at:

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