Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Birthday Boy

January 24, 2007

John Adams, Salonen, and the LA Philharmonic
Photo: mine
Towards the end of last year there was much talk about Mozart-fatigue over the omnipresent revivals of his work in celebration of his 250th birthday anniversary. As irritating as Mozart-fatigue may have been, it is nowhere near as irritating or long lasting as “birthday celebration”-fatigue is. It now appears that the seemingly endless string of Birthday celebrations may be replacing virtually every other programming idea or concept all over the world. Next up in keeping this tradition alive is John Adam’s 60th birthday, which will be marked by the now requisite festivals and commemorations throughout the entire year.

However, it’s hard to complain when this results in shows as great as those that took place in Southern California this weekend. I had the great pleasure to attend two of these shows at the Walt Disney Concert Hall this weekend. On Saturday, Salonen conducted the LA Phil in a performance of Naïve and Sentimental Music, a piece, Adams noted, the Phil “owns,” given their experience recording it and premiering it both in LA and New York. This was a homecoming in that it was the first LA performance of the piece since the 1999 premiere. Before the performance, Adams expounded on how he feels the interpretation has grown in beautiful ways under Salonen’s leadership. I agree with him - it was hard to imagine a better performance of this masterpiece. The crowd was ecstatic at the end of this program, which opened with Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony, and suddenly Adams opening joke to the audience wasn’t so much of a joke anymore – on that night in this city, he is in fact the composer that knocked Beethoven off the second half of the program.

On Tuesday, Adams returned to conduct members of the Phil's new music group in a program of three smaller works, China Gates, the clarinet concerto Gnarly Buttons, and Grand Pianola Music. These earlier pieces worked well together and demonstrated the influences and developments in Adams’ work over time. Derek Bermel was the clarinet soloist for Gnarly Buttons, providing a strong center to a work that can easily succumb to its own American Western kitsch. Pianola brought the house down with the combined talents of LA Phil keyboardists Joanne Pearce-Martin and Vicki Ray. Suddenly, I was sad that the Birthday celebration was over so soon and without anything from Nixon in China or Klinghoffer. In this case, the good news is that the birthday year is just getting started and Americans and Europeans will have a lot more opportunities to hear his music with The Flowering Tree in London and San Francisco and Doctor Atomic in Amsterdam and Chicago.

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