In years past I had started the book numerous times but had given up, doubtless because I felt obliged to read it in French, and after fifty or so pages the effort dragged me down. In the last few weeks, though, I read it in full—in English, which I'm passably good at. And immediately upon finishing it, without even a pause to look around or take a deep breath, I began reading a second time. I can’t say that of any novel I’ve ever read—that I’ve wanted to go right back to page one and do it all over again. I now understand why Nabokov says you haven’t really read a book if you’ve just read it once.
Interesting, because over the past few years I’ve consulted Toscanini recordings of repertoire I’ve been doing only to find his interpretations frequently bewildering and puzzling. His performance of Strauss’s Töd und Verklärung, for instance, is wildly, willfully off the mark compared to what Strauss’s meticulous score asks for.
One gets the feeling that Toscanini, famous for never using a score, eventually stopped consulting one, ending up with interpretations that could be bizarrely disconnected. The legend, of course, was that Toscanini restored “the composer’s intent” to the interpretive art. But his recordings don’t always bear that out.Stokowski, however, was something else. There is no one in the world of classical music today who can even approach him for his shocking blend of chutzpah, self-promotion, or interpretive delinquency.
During the Greek progression from Myth to Reason -- that most delicate process, almost a Titanomachy, OK let's splurge, almost a Τιτανομαχία that, among other things, gave birth to Philosophy, the Law and a bunch of other things that eventually bore you to death in college, and cue here, among so many others, Jean-Pierre Vernant's amazing work on these matters -- something may have been lost, maybe just a little, during this long process. And it is the ancient sense of, for the lack of a better word, Wonder. (Mankind recently regained it thanks to videogames, but this is either the topic of another post or a future PhD dissertation by OC, so stay tuned).
Therefore may the ancient deities bless John Adams and Peter Sellars, that apparently mismatched duo of big nerds who have created with "A Flowering Tree" what appears to be one of the most important works of their career -- and certainly the most purely beautiful.
It's fitting that almost one year ago, OC was last in New York City's intimate Rose Theater for the 2008 Mostly Mozart Festival's production of Kaija Saariaho’s "La Passion de Simone", directed by Sellars and starring Dawn Upshaw. That spirit remained, and OC was back in the same house for another modern work with very similar and haunting undertones.
For all the pitfalls he sometimes gleefully dives into, just for the hell of it probably, Opera Chic loves Peter Sellars, that impish Puck of a man full of larger-than-life ideas (Cosi' fan Tutte in a diner, Le Nozze in the Trump Towers). Maybe John Adams's 21st century opera, "A Flowering Tree", didn't eventually need any of Sellar's gorgeous or perfect ideas to stand on its own. Because musically it's an impressively solid work, and it doesn't matter how much the purists might find it too "simple" (as if simplicity weren't the fundamental ingredient of most if not all ancient art). Sellars, as Adams's frequent partner-in-crime, this time found an Adams opera that is full of such lush expression and brilliant, visual passages which effortlessly weave an unmistakable narrative, that he didn't really need to overplay his hand. And, bless him, he didn't.
“Do not move / Let the wind speak / that is paradise", in the heavenly words of that crazy Jew-hating giant, Ezra Pound, the wretched twentieth century's wretched, greatest poet. That's what Sellars did -- he let the wind speak. He left his trusty sledgehammer (see: Doctor Atomic) home for once and didn't overplay his hand.
Since its inception in 2006 after being earlier commissioned by New Crowned Hope Festival (to ring in the 250th birth year of Mozart), Adams's "A Flowering Tree" has buzzed its way around the world through Berlin, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and London. Now New York City is hosting the much anticipated opera, which made its Big Apple premiere this past Thursday night, in Opera Chic's presence, in the acoustically-superb Rose Theater for the 2009 Mostly Mozart Festival. Its part of the MMF, as Adams' opera is aligned with the same major themes as Wolfgang's last opera, Die Zauberflöte, dealing similarly with dark arts, transformations, trials by fire, and moral awareness.
With the libretto by John Adams and Peter Sellars the story is based on an ancient, Indian folktale, full of transformations, mythological allusions, and heartbreaking morality. Compact and perfectly balanced, "A Flowering Tree" calls for Lyric soprano, tenor, baritone. The orchestra: picc, 2 fl, 2 ob (2=Eng hrn), soprano recorder, alto recorder, 2 clar, bass cl, bsn, contrbsn (=bsn); 4 hrn, 2 tpt, timpani, 2 percussion, harp, celesta and strings. There is also a corps of shadow figures, silent dancers who mime action and reenact the fable-driven narrative with gorgeous dance and pantomime.
Classical music fans who were looking forward to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's
world-premiere CD release of John Adams' "Doctor Atomic Symphony" on
Tuesday are going to have to wait another week -- and they can thank a
typo for the delay.
That's because a minor printing error at Nonesuch has caused the
shipment to be pushed back to July 28. A misspelling of the conductor's
name meant that the cover art had to be reprinted, resulting in the
one-week postponement, according to the music company.
"Harvard University president Drew Faust's arts initiative, announced
in December amid dismal budget projects, will become a reality after
all - at least parts of it. Faust,
who is trying to put the arts on the same academic footing as science
and the humanities at Harvard, told students Friday that she plans to
increase the number of visiting artists.
First up: Jazz great
Wynton Marsalis and minimalist composer John Adams. Marsalis is
expected to present a lecture series spanning two years. And Adams, who
won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for his work commemorating the victims of
the Sept. 11 attacks, will teach composing courses over one semester.
The timing still has to be worked out as to when the musicians will
arrive, said Lori Gross, who was hired in July as the associate provost
for arts and culture".
The thing about John Adams is, his music can be pretty boring but he really must be fun to party with given that he seems to have some awesome weed stashed away, if the interview that will appear tomorrow in The Guardian is to be believed.
The Doctor Atomic composer went a bit bananies explaining that:
'I can't check in at the airport now without my ID being taken and being grilled. You know, I'm on a homeland security list, probably because of having written The Death of Klinghoffer, so I'm perfectly aware that I, like many artists and many thoughtful people in the country, am being followed.'
Not only he thinks he is John Lennon and George W. Bush (a famous post-minimalist music fan) is J. Edgar Hoover without the drag, but he thinks that:
'9/11 was a very glamorous event,' he said. 'I'm using the term in a very ironic sense - 3,000 people being killed; it's a terrible tragedy, but in the scale of human tragedy it's very small.
Obvs, next time Johnny complains for airport security (not to mention, for a bad review) someone needs to remind him that overrated composers getting frisked by some burly TSA kid, in the scale of human tragedy is a very, very, very small thing, too.
When OC finalized her plans for her Easter vacation (Courmayeur won, South Beach lost even if we really wanted to check out Brosia) the downside of ditching, for now, our traditional Florida trip -- the upside: avoiding the inevitable paparazzi frenzy in front of the Raleigh -- also includes the fact that we'll miss ex-President and composer John Adams* at the Lincoln Theatre (we don't idolize him as much as some of the boys do, but he's nevertheless pretty cool). More powah to Michael Tilson Thomas's NWS for the always interesting programming.
Readers of a certain age may recall a television program called "Name That Tune," wherein a few notes would be played and contestants would attempt to identify the song. John Adams's "Harmonielehre" (1985), which the National Symphony Orchestra played last night at the Kennedy Center in honor of the composer's 60th birthday, might have been better named "Spot That Influence," for there isn't much in its 40-odd minutes that seems uniquely Adams's own.
Thankfully, signor Page also thinks that eventually, thanks to Leonard "We'll Play All Of Beethoven 9 in 60 seconds" Slatkin's conducting the piece "manages to win one over with a certain hammered, visceral excitement".
Memo to Signor Page: sir, we totally dig ur stuff BUT please don't send us a happy birthday card OK?