The Adams Families – John and John Luther
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
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
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
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
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
) 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
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.