Monday, March 19, 2012

American Mavericks: MTT, Emanuel Ax, and John Adams

It was a full house at Saturday night's big American Mavericks concert featuring premieres by Mason Bates & John Adams. Mr. Bates is an earnest composer. His Mass Transmission is a 25 minute choral piece with a text about an early radio link between The Netherlands & its East Indies colonies. The chorus was in the terrace, accompanied by organist Paul Jacobs at a console on stage, next to conductor Donato Cabrera. Mr. Bates sat at a laptop at the back of stage. The choral writing is simple, solemn & chordal. Recorded sound effects frame the piece, which drifts off into silence at the end. Gamelan & jungle sounds are evoked in the middle section. The piece received warm applause & a scattered standing ovation.

A full orchestra, led by MTT, premiered the cheeky Absolute Jest by John Adams. It's fast & furious, noisily riffing on motifs from Beethoven, most notably from the 9th Sympony & the late string quartets. It reminded me of those PDQ Bach pieces made entirely of quotes from other pieces, & Mr. Adams obviously had fun writing it. The St. Lawrence String Quartet were an aggressive concertino of soloists, the 2 violinists playing like they were sawing their instruments in half. The piece received enthusiastic applause & a standing ovation. Mr. Adams was present to take a bow with the performers.

MTT addressed the audience before the Feldman Piano & Orchestra piece, mainly to warn us to be very quiet. Even though the piece requires a large orchestra, it is near silent. It has a spatial feel, with small events scattered over an empty expanse. Soloist Emanuel Ax was intent & focused. He makes no wasted motions. The audience was quiet for the piece's 25 minute duration, & Mr. Ax received warm applause.

There were so many musicians on stage for Edgar Varèse's Amériques that I worried someone would fall off. There were over a dozen percussionists, 8 horns, 5 trumpets & 2 harps. The piece is loud & extroverted & has a stomping vitality. A siren wails periodically. MTT led without a baton & sometimes hopped into the air. He gave us an ear-splitting finale, & the audience cheered. Because the stage had to be rearranged between every piece, the concert ran overtime. A gentleman in the row in front of me misled me as to the identity of the heckelphone.

§ American Mavericks: MTT, Emanuel Ax, and John Adams 
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Donato Cabrera, conductor
San Francisco Symphony Chorus
San Francisco Symphony
Paul Jacobs, organ
Mason Bates, electronica
St. Lawrence String Quartet
Emanuel Ax, piano

Mason Bates: Mass Transmission (San Francisco Symphony Commission)
John Adams: Absolute Jest (San Francisco Symphony Co-Commission)
Feldman: Piano and Orchestra
Varèse: Amériques

Sat, Mar 17, 2012 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall

Photo credit: Mike Minehan


Civic Center said...

I am so glad you got that heckelphone confusion figured out. Even though the gentleman in front of you acted authoritative, I didn't trust he knew what he was talking about either.

Axel Feldheim said...

The heckelphone is not a tuba! He did not even point me to the right family of instruments. Good thing I didn't ask him about the ondes martenot.