Walt Disney Concert Hall has program notes for The Dharma at Big Sur, which includes a short Q&A with John Adams:
When the Philharmonic asked me for a new work to celebrate the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall, I knew I wanted to write something that reflected our collective experience of being Californians. I especially wanted to reflect the experience of those who, like me, were not born here and for whom the arrival on this side of the continent had both a spiritual and a physical impact.
Adams also says that the piece is not improvised, uses just intonation, and was inspired by Jack Kerouac's book Big Sur. 11/29/03
- Anthony Tommasini in the New York Times said:
The work is a de facto concerto for electric violin and orchestra. Electronic instruments, digital samplers and prerecorded tapes are ingeniously blended into the scoring for lush, full orchestra. The solo part, played with fleet agility and tangy expressivity by Tracy Silverman, deftly evokes Appalachian fiddle music, an Indian sitar and wistful jazz riffs with wailing hints of Jimi Hendrix.He thought the (amplified) violin too loud to blend with the orchestra.
- Mark Swed of the LA Times says it was an "irresistible tribute to California."
- Joshua Kosman in the SF Chronicle called Adams' piece "a blissed-out Golden State reverie" although overall thought it "vaporous" and too reminiscent of Hoodoo Zephyr, a electronic music CD released in the nineties by Adams. Kosman found the electric violin "poignant" but with little to distinguish the rest of the music. Kosman was quite enthusiastic about Adams' recent premiere of My Father Knew Charles Ives, for what it is worth.
- Joyrides without Maps called it "awe and peace, sweetness and sex and respite, depsite it all" and was excited to hear a hometown premiere on the radio (via KCRW).
Update. Kyle Gann posts on the Alternate Tunings list that in fact the premiere was not performed in the "just intonation" tuning as composed due to the standard lack of rehearsal time.