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Essential Adams

Half a generation younger than the founders of American Minimalism (Terry Riley, La Monte Young and Steve Reich), John Adams's music falls more comfortably into the category of "post-minimalist", but it's a description which does a disservice to Adams's vibrant creative output. While his music uses the hypnotic repetitions and loops, subtly shifting harmonies, and spooling melodies of minimalism, Adams successfully melds the rigorous purity of minimalism with a far richer palette, to create music which can be grand, inventive and dramatic, lushly textured, almost to the point of excess, emotionally expressive, or quietly moving and meditative. Read more…

Adams rejected atonality at a time when it was deeply fashionable and viewed by many as the only way to compose; instead his compositional language draws on the classical tradition – at times deeply romantic – and also on American folk music, and pop. 'Grand Pianola Music', for example, mixes the heady late 19th-century romanticism of Rachmaninoff with Liszt-meets-Liberace virtuosity, the mesmeric minimalist conceits of Steve Reich, the subtle but piquant harmonic shifts of Philip Glass, and a memorably joyous major-key anthem. In ‘Harmonielehre’ – a three-movement symphony in all but name - Adams pays homage to the monumental structures and opulent romanticism of Wagner, pre-atonal Schoenberg, Sibelius and Mahler (the second movement makes reference to the Adagio of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony). Its complex textures and haunting melodies are interwoven with Adam’s distinct use of sparkling percussion and hovering strings, from the booming, attention-grabbing chords and propulsive energy of the first movement to the finale, which unfolds like the sunrise opening of Schoenberg’s 'Gurrelieder' before building to an astonishing, emphatic blaze of sound.

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