John Adams: Doctor Atomic Symphony (2007)

I listened to the streaming audio of Tuesday evening's premiere of John Adams's Doctor Atomic Symphony, part of a Proms concert by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mr. Adams. The program began with a flabby and indifferent account of Aaron Copland's Billy the Kid, and continued with a performance of Mr. Adams's Century Rolls, for piano and orchestra, with Olli Mustonen as soloist. Mr. Mustonen was an able soloist and the accompaniment was crisp and precise.

The main event of the concert was, of course, the premiere. I have to say again, for the record, that I don't get John Adams's music. It doesn't speak to me. There are moments in almost every piece of his that I've heard (and I've probably given him more chances than any other composer) that resonate, but they are far and few between (as Stevie Wonder put it), and not big enough to make a whole movement or composition work for me. This was true of the new Symphony--there's an extended passage in the first movement that is reminiscent of the last movement of the Stravinsky Symphony in Three Movements, but not as telling, and the trumpet solo near the end is very fine.

Many people whose ears I respect continue to sing the praises of John Adams, and I'll still listen to him. As always, my reaction to him says more about me than it does the music.

[Edited on 8 Mar 14 for spelling and usage.]


  1. As always, my reaction to him says more about me than it does the music.

    Maybe not.


  2. Wandered over here from Blognoggle.

    I simply don't get the "the onus is on me if I don't like a piece" mindset. I can say, having attended the premiere of his utterly mediocre opera in San Francisco, that a 45-minute piece of bleeding chunks from it sounds pretty unappealing to me.

    I think the man's music is wildly overrated --Mark Swed in my local birdcage liner The Los Angeles Times comes as across as his personal publicist when writing about Adams' music-- and since the Los Angeles Philharmonic has played virtually all of the non-chamber pieces, I've heard almost all of it.

    As a friend of mine said after we left a performance of Century Rolls "The music doesn't *go* anywhere". He's a big fan of Adams early music but thinks he's showing his limitations as he moves away from his typical romantic minimalism style.

    Another friend was so livid when we walked out after a performance of the ghastly El Nino that we thought he was going to start hitting things. "Fucking white people" my Latino/Black friend said. "When they run out of ideas, they start stealing from my cultures". Um.... :-)

    And the less said about the horrifyingly bad I Was Looking At The Ceiling..., the better. *shudder* Adams is one of those people who seems to be above criticism in American classical music, the classical equivalent to Bruce Springsteen in rock music.

  3. Anonymous1:38 PM

    Pity about Billy the Kid! Copland deserves better than flab and indifference.