Quite by chance I stumbled across an extraordinary musical adventure at the local Borders' three-day sale of any three CDs for a very favorable price. This was just a week ago, and I rushed out to grab some bargains.
One of the selections I made was truly amazing. Recorded last year (2006) by the BBC Symphony led by the composer, The Dharma at Big Sur and My Father Knew Charles Ives by John Adams is the kind of music you can listen to over and over again.
On opening the packaging around what was supposedly a single disc (and priced as such), I was surprised to find two discs — one for each of the compositions. This seemed silly as the total musical content was less than one hour, and both works could easily have fit on the same disc. On listening, however, it all made sense. These are two very different compositions, and need to be heard separately — even at different times.
John Adams has long been my second favorite among contemporary American composers of serious music (my first favorite remains Philip Glass), and I especially love Adams' 1985 opera Nixon in China as well as his whimsical Short Ride in a Fast Machine of 1986.
The first work, The Dharma at Big Sur, is a concerto featuring a stunning performance on the electric violin by Tracy Silverman, whose unusual tuning and soulful playing makes this an unforgettable masterpiece. Evoking the sun-and-surf lifestyle of the California coast, it sometimes breaks into an Indian raga with touches of modern jazz. Typical of Adams' work, it clearly recalls other American composers, in this case Lou Harrison and Terry Riley.
Moving from the Pacific to the East Coast, the second composition, My Father Knew Charles Ives, is an hommage to the Yankee composer of Three Places in New England. Ives' technique of musical collage is put to good use here, depicting in sound the small towns, lakes and mountains of the place where Adams was born and raised. Even if his father never actually knew Ives.
All in all, a most worthwhile purchase.
SO, just what Little Adventure am I up to now in 2013? Why, just the most challenging one of them all! CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT.
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