“During the early 1980s, John Adams was beginning to emerge as a composer and his works were brilliantly distinctive, of exceptional quality and I felt his music needed to be heard on all continents of the world. Over those early years, I performed his music everywhere and today still regularly return to his works. As with all great repertoire, each time one returns to these scores and restudies them, one has the opportunity to find something more; to discover new dimensions he has not explored before, other reflections of innovation and genius. – Maestro Kent Nagano
On 13th September, Decca Classics releases a new album of works by the American composer John Adams, featuring Kent Nagano and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Released to coincide with Nagano’s final season with the Orchestra, The John Adams Album contains the composer’s key orchestral works conducted by one of his greatest, lifelong champions. After 14 years, Maestro Nagano steps down as Music Director at the end of the 2019–2020 season in August 2020.
Adams composed ‘Common Tones in Simple Time’, his first orchestral work, in 1979. “As the title suggests, the compositional and affective concerns were decidedly minimalist,” writes the composer. “In the late seventies there were very few models for a minimalist orchestral style, so in a certain sense, I felt both the excitement as well as the challenge of venturing into uncharted terrain.”
‘Harmonielehre’ is a symphony in three movements, written for an orchestra of Mahlerian proportions that includes an array of percussion instruments rarely used in the context of a symphony. Adams’ choice of a German title, which translates as “Theory of Harmony,” could not be more signifying: it is the very same title of a 1911 book by the young Arnold Schoenberg. Paradoxically, just as he was on the verge of breaking with the tonal tradition, Schoenberg produced a brilliant essay on the rules of harmony that govern it, as if a thorough summary might forever erase the influence these rules would have had on his future endeavours. Conversely, Adams’ title is a reconnection with the very tradition Schoenberg and his followers had renounced.
‘Short Ride in a Fast Machine’ was commissioned in 1986 by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas for the opening of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s summertime festival. The title of this short yet brilliant orchestral work refers to a ride around a racing track that Adams had taken aboard a friend’s state-of-the-art Italian race car. “’Short Ride in a Fast Machine’ is somewhat of an evocation of that experience, which was both thrilling and also a kind of white knuckle, anxious [one],”, Adams joked.
Over the past four decades, John Adams has forged a highly personal style that has earned him a place as one of the most well-regarded composers in contemporary music. Born in New England in 1947, John Adams studied composition at Harvard University between 1965 and 1971 with teachers who saw the future of music in the atonal and serial continuum, half a century after Arnold Schoenberg had instigated it. Unimpressed with what he considered to be an extreme and overly cerebral aesthetic, in 1972, Adams travelled to San Francisco, where in previous years American counterculturalists such as La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich had ventured a return to tonality. They developed their works out of brief melodic-rhythmic motifs, as did Adams in his early composition ‘Common Tones in Simple Time’, which rides on the wave of Minimalism.
Kent Nagano is renowned for his clarity, elegance, and intelligence in performance. He enjoys a steadfast international reputation, engaging with a vast repertoire spanning the Baroque era to contemporary music, championing little-known works while bringing new ideas to the performance of the established repertoire. Maestro Nagano has been Music Director of the OSM since 2006. He served as Music Director of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin – of which he is Honorary Conductor – from 2000 to 2006, and the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich from 2006. He was the Principal Guest Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (Sweden) from 2013 to 2019. In 2015, he was appointed General Music Director of the Hamburg State Opera and Principal Conductor of the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Maestro Nagano was named Commander of the Ordre de Montréal, Grand Officer of the Ordre national du Québec, Companion of the Ordre des arts et des lettres du Québec, in addition to receiving the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Medal.
ORCHESTRE SYMPHONIQUE DE MONTRÉAL
Founded in 1934, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) is a distinguished leader of musical life in Quebec and Canada. Recognized as one of the finest orchestras in the world, whose core activity is to perform the vast orchestral repertoire with conductors and soloists of the highest calibre, the OSM is an essential cultural ambassador. Under the direction of American conductor Kent Nagano since 2006, the OSM perpetuates several rich traditions rooted in its long history of social involvement and embodied in far-reaching projects, world class tours, and a superb discography. Firmly anchored in today’s world, the OSM’s innovative artistic programming in both concerts and recordings brings modern-day relevance to the symphonic repertoire while strengthening the Orchestra’s place at the heart of its home base in Quebec’s metropolis. Over the years, the OSM has crisscrossed Canada and toured abroad, travelling to the Quebec’s Far North as well as to the United States, Latin America, and several countries in Europe and Asia. The OSM’s discography totals more than a hundred recordings on the Decca, Analekta, CBC Records, ECM, EMI, Philips, and Sony labels, earning more than 50 national and international awards.