Tuesday, March 24, 2009

John Adams in Conversation

Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
Arts & Ideas 2009
John Adams
In Conversation with Kevin Starr
Monday, March 23 8:00 pm Fisher Family Hall

American composer John Adams spent about 80 minutes genially answering questions about his background & career. He was good about making remarks that were of interest to a general audience. The talk started with a discussion of his New England roots, his academic music training at Harvard & his arrival in California. When he talked about his cross-country drive to San Francisco at the end of the 60s, it was clear that he is very representative of his generation.

He always imagines an audience when he composes, an audience that is like himself, that reads the same books & perhaps shares his political opinions. He still feels somewhat damaged by the generation of post-war modernists that turned people off to new music. If one of his works is in the 2nd half of a program, it bothers him to see audience members leaving at the intermission, assuming that because his work is modern, it will sound terrible.

Mr. Adams was upset that when a Proms concert had to be re-programmed immediately after 9/11, they chose Beethoven's 9th Symphony to commemmorate the victims. To him, this showed that there is no American music of the greatness of Beethoven or Brahms appropriate to the occasion.

I was very amused when Mr. Adams revealed that he loves The Messiah & wishes he'd written it. I also heartily agree with his assessment that opera is a spectator sport.

The well-read Mr. Adams had specifically requested that historian Kevin Starr be his interviewer. Adams was then cheeky enough to display obvious glee when he managed to stump Mr. Starr as to the origin of the title of his new memoir, Hallelujah Junction. Hallelujah Junction is an actual place name in California.


Gavin Plumley said...

Great post. Hallelujah Junction is a wonderful piano work, but the Adams book of the same title might be better.

Axel Feldheim said...

Mr. Adams had a lot of interesting things to say & no doubt his book is an enjoyable read. The event was recorded for radio broadcast, so it may appear on a Web archive sometime in the future.

Thanks for reading, Mr. Plumley. My recreational reading schedule has been slightly derailed by my discovery of Andre Aciman through you!

Gavin Plumley said...

How did you get on with Mr Aciman?

Axel Feldheim said...

Mr. Plumley, I'm afraid that I won't be able to do justice to your inquiry in one little comment. So far I've read False Papers & Call Me By Your Name. I found many pithy sentences in False Papers that I needed to copy into my own personal notebook of quotes. Call Me By Your Name took me by surprise with its psychological intensity & literate mind games. I started to get angry with Mr. Aciman for pushing so many of my buttons in the book's coda, covering the 20 years following the summer described in the story. I was in a local cafe, & I kept muttering "Dammit!" under my breath as I finished reading it.

I do hope to get around to Out of Egypt sometime soon.