qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

Dr Strangelove

Another all-American evening for Prom 50. The pre-Prom talk with John Adams was entertaining - he is a good speaker and his conversation with Paul Hughes included "simultaneous translation" (you say lab'ratory, I say laboratory) and a discussion on fuses for an atomic bomb with Hughes saying "now, none of you are taking notes, are you?". Adams conceded that the BBC Symphony Orchestra had played through his Doctor Atomic Symphony for the first time end-to-end that morning, probably not an unusual state of affairs for a premiere, but edge-of-the-seat stuff nonetheless.

The concert itself began with a suite from Copland's Billy the Kid. I half expected to recognise the tunes but it was in fact all new to me, fair but not outstanding, and curiously containing a nod or two in the direction of Ives. Adams' own Century Rolls was disappointing: rather too dissonant for me, a little bit like Prokofiev on a bad day I thought, though the last movement was better. I couldn't really say whether pianist Olli Mustonen was any good or not, but Adams seemed to like the performance.

The second half, then, was the world premiere of Adams' Doctor Atomic Symphony, music taken from his own opera of the same name, concerning Oppenheimer and the days leading up to the first test of the atomic bomb in the summer of 1945. In the talk, Adams described the opening as "like the music from a 1950s sci-fi movie" (but, noted Hughes, without Theremin). Personally, I didn't notice this (or perhaps, the absence of the Theremin meant much of the effect was lost). I wasn't altogether taken with the opening, but as the piece progressed it grew on me. The third section, Panic (in part, allegedly, an ironic nod to Harrison Birtwistle) was a particularly frenzied scherzo, depicting a storm over the New Mexico desert (the scientists and engineers were concerned, amidst many other problems, about the risk of an accidental detonation because of electric discharges from the storm); the final section, Trinity - which was interspersed with flashbacks to Panic - is taken from a scene where Oppenheimer is reciting a sonnet of John Donne, depicting his own anguish at his creation. As a whole, it didn't have the immediate appeal of The Chairman Dances or Harmonielehre, but it probably merits further listening.

Adams also let slip that ENO will be staging Doctor Atomic in 2009.
Tags: music
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