Here's the final post to finish my slow-blog of the Alarm Will Sound concert at Stanford...
Parents are the bones on which children sharpen their teeth. -Peter Ustinov
In today's Ask Mick LaSalle, Mick reiterates the idea that each work of art should be judged based on its intent, rather than in comparison with other works. As a consumer rather than a producer of art, I don't necessarily agree with this. Regardless, in the case of the premiere Friday night of John Adams' newest work, Son of Chamber Symphony, given the title, it's all but impossible to not compare it with its precedessor, Chamber Symphony.
Some comments based on a first impression of a first performance:
- Compared to Chamber Symphony, Son of Chamber Symphony is less wacky and probably more worthwhile. The work strikes me as more grown-up compared to its parent.
- Compared to the original, Son of Chamber Symphony more effectively uses the smaller and compact ensemble, provides richer timbres (was that a hand drum?), and has a surprisingly subtle ending.
- Adams' use of woodwinds was some of the best work I've heard him do for those instruments, both combined and individually, except for maybe Gnarly Buttons (the latter's moo not withstanding).
- Chamber Symphony was inspired by, among other things, cartoon music. In Son of Chamber Music, I imagine the second movement being about cartoon characters at the end of filming an episode and having to transition back to the normal banality and concerns of everyday life. Think Bugs Bunny asking "what's really up, doc?" versus the more superficial "what's up, doc?"
- Lately, I've been listening to Thelonious Monk, Conlon Nancarrow, and Duke Ellington. Son of Chamber Symphony could be said to build on the rhythm and clarity of the latter two composers (although not the idiosyncratic Monk). There's a Conlon Nancarrow interview by Charles Amirkhanian where Charles suggests that unlike other serious composers of the time, Nancarrow had an authenticity derived from actually playing jazz trumpet. Similarly, at least in this chamber setting, I suspect Adams has benefited from his clarinetist father, from listening as a kid to Bennie Goodman, and from playing clarinet himself in a small community orchestra.
- This will get me booted out of the contemporary electronica music club but uncharacteristically, I found the amplified strings somewhat annoying.
- Since Son of Chamber Symphony does not have the benefit of fifteen years of cultural assimilation that its parent has had, feel free to check back with this blog in 2022 for a follow-up assessment...
In April, Son of Chamber Symphony will be used with choreography by Mark Morris in a San Francisco Ballet program. Finally, Frank Oteri's program notes talk about the significance of the commission:
Its birth into the world is the result of a rather extraordinary commission involving the sister and brother-in-law of Stanford Lively Arts Artistic and Executive Director Jenny Bilfeld. Eddi Van Auken and her husband, Van, a Stanford Business School graduate are both cancer survivors and decided to commission Adams' new work in honor of the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that is the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to eradicating lung cancer.