music, technology & life in pasadena, california

A Short Ride with John Adams

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted here, as I’ve been busy prepping a lot of pieces for performance. The week after the Mahler 7 concerts, the LA Phil immediately went into rehearsals for John Adams’ Naïve & Sentimental Music, which I mentioned in my last entry. The performances were awesome and John was present the entire week. Our last performance was at Orange County’s new Segerstrom Hall. I was curious to find out how the acoustics there compared to Disney Hall, the orchestra’s home base. As the players filed in before the concert and warmed up, it seemed that the natural reverberation was excessive, which could easily spell trouble for an orchestra trying to hear itself on stage. Once we started playing, that problem seemed to fade away, but there’s no doubt that the sound in the hall is far less transparent than at Disney. My overall impression after one concert was highly favorable, but after 3 ½ years of playing at WDCH and loving every minute, it’ll be hard for me to be swayed by most any hall I’m likely to encounter for the rest of my career.

The concert was possibly the most expressive of the week and a reviewer for the OC Register noted that Esa-Pekka’s performance was a full 5 minutes longer than his recorded version. Wow! I had vaguely realized that the 2nd movement was very extended, but was so entranced by the beauty of the sound and of the moment that I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It worked perfectly, conjuring up the most amazing and sumptuous sound from the orchestra. When the piece was over, Salonen leaned back on the podium rail and just looked around quietly at the orchestra, slightly nodding, acknowledging the amazing playing and journey we had just taken together, while the applause and cheers seemed almost from another time in space.

The next day, a small group of players under the banner of the LA Philharmonic New Music Group, started rehearsing Gnarly Buttons with the composer, John Adams conducting. This was a fun romp in a quasi-hoedown-Americana style, complete with banjo, mandolin and guitar. I don’t know how John does it, but he’s always able to evoke certain feelings in his music without once writing an overt reference to them. His El Nino, a Christmas oratorio with texts by Hispanic writers, uses two guitars, steel-string not classical, as you would expect from traditional mezzo-American music, and uses them in ways that are so original and unimaginable that it takes me back in awe every time I’ve played it.

Gnarly Buttons was just pure fun. A difficult piece, demanding in many different ways, but fun…and being able to play a piece like this with the composer at the helm was a very gratifying experience. The concert was sold-out, as more and more new music concerts are here, and proves that Los Angeles has responded to the challenge of expanding its musical envelope. It’s a great time for music here…

February 7, 2007 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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