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This time fate did not intervene. On two earlier occasions when performances of John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine have been planned in London – the first after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the second immediately after 9/11 – political sensitivities resulted in the piece being dropped.
For Adams, that was plain bad luck, as the music has no descriptive function. The piece is little more than a joyous explosion of energy, an ideal concert opener that flashes past before late-comers have barely had time to get to their seats, and with Adams himself conducting it set Thursday’s programme off to a flying start.
The concert was part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s “American Pioneers” series. At 60, Adams might seem on the mature side to be engaged in pioneering (and Steve Reich, the other major figure in the series, is 11 years his senior), but Adams and Reich remain contemporary composers who have kept their music bang up to date with the political and social movements around them.
The nearest that Adams has come to looking backwards is the loveable Violin Concerto of 1993. Although his minimalist origins can be discerned in the rhythms throbbing away below the surface, this is a very much the standard classical concerto. The fact that it slots so easily into a concert programme is no doubt one reason why violinists have taken it up, but there is also the elegiac, lyrical tone that Adams holds so captivatingly throughout, and Midori, the sensitive soloist here, made an exquisite job of it.
If that is a typical concerto, then the Naive and Sentimental Music of 1997-98 might be thought of as Adams’s symphony – except that he wisely did not call it one. Heard straight after the Violin Concerto, this score is less subtle and its ideas drawn out just too long for the ecstatic climaxes to arrive naturally. It did not help that the LSO’s playing was unusually coarse. Perhaps Adams is not technically the most expert advocate of his own music.
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