The Adams Families – John and John Luther

10 concerts in one weekend? Yes, your read it right and here are the details of Nick's #classicalbuzz...
While I’m glad to report, Skrowaczewski’s Bruckner 5 was all I had expected it to be last Saturday night (and surely destined for release on the LPO’s own label – as the microphones were in place) – that concert was only the icing on the cake.

I spent most of the rest of the weekend on the other side of the River Thames at the Barbican Centre and did ten – yes TEN! – other concerts, while also missing even more. Just as the adjacent Barbican Theatre was ending its run of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet (you know, that play by Shakespeare), all the other performance venues – even the studio theatre, The Pit, and one of the cinemas – were press ganged into all-day use as concert venues, for the Centre’s first Classical Weekender, entitled Sound Unbound. Billed (surely far too narrowly) as an introduction to those who were new to ‘classical’ music, it proved equally exciting for hardened stalwarts like me.

I started at the beginning with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at 11am on Saturday morning when Andrew Litton lit the blue touch paper and blasted us into space by way of Richard Strauss’ sunrise from Also sprach Zarathusta, then travelling out beyond Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War to a piece I’d never heard live (but about which I’d written a programme note, having talked to its composer): Takemitsu’s Star Isle. A shimmering excerpt from Rued Langgaard’s Music of the Spheres and the UK première of Augusta Read Thomas’ gorgeously ringing Aureole led to John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine – with Adams in the audience to acknowledge the applause. John Williams’ arrant grab on Holst’s themes in his Star Wars overture made a fitting encore, but it was Adams that really book-ended the weekend. Other concerts I attended were a surround-sound Spem in Alium with the BBC Symphony Chorus, the Academy of Ancient Music playing elemental baroque pieces, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani from Bach to Reich, and both Jeremy Denk (with the Britten Sinfonia) and James Rhodes (solo) playing Bach. Phew!

First, though, let’s backtrack to the previous Monday where the Royal Academy of Music had hosted a John Adams day, ending with the award of an honorary degree from the University of London. On the Thursday Adams conducted the LSO in the UK première of his new ‘dramatic symphony’ for violin and orchestra Scheherazade .2 5-minute four- movement concertante work in the form of Berlioz’s Harold en Italie as much as Rimsky- Korsakov’s original Scheherazade - with Leila Josefowicz as the peerless soloist playing from memory. And Adams ended the Barbican’s Sound Unbound weekend, again at the helm of the LSO, with his early success Harmonielehre, which brought proceedings to a close in a thrilling orchestral blaze.

But he was not the only Adams on the Barbican’s bill. Outside, within the concrete confines of the buildings that surround the man-made lake, some 30 musicians played Inuksuit for 9 to 99 percussionists by John Luther Adams (no relation). First heard at the East Neuk Festival in 2013 (where this year it was followed by another new work for at least 32 horns, Across the Distance) this proved a sinuous, ever-changing work for different families of percussion instruments, starting with load-hailers and subtle whirling contraptions that created a quiet whooshing sound – players wandering around the milling audience – before moving to a number of percussion stations, first pummelling drums and latterly sounding bells, with vuvuzela clarion calls from high above. It was a vast 45-mintue arc of sound ricocheting off the high-rise flats, ending with an ensemble of piccolos gently calling time, as the night drew in. It was as hugely atmospheric as the weekend had been marvellously eclectic and engrossing.

More anon.

Nick Breckenfield
Nick Breckenfield has worked in and around the classical music industry over the last 25 years - at venues, agencies and as a programme note writer and marketeer. He was Classical Music editor for Whatsonwhen for 13 years, and current clients include the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.
Author: Nick Breckenfield
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