You are on page 1of 7

Son of Chamber Symphony (2007) 1. I 8:45 2. II 7:45 3.

III 7:20
International Contemporary Ensemble John Adams, conductor

String Quartet (2008) 4. I 21:21 5. II 8:49


St. Lawrence String Quartet

International Contemporary Ensemble Eric Lamb, flute, piccolo Nicholas Masterson, oboe Joshua Rubin, clarinet Campbell MacDonald, bass clarinet Rebekah Heller, bassoon David Byrd-Marrow, horn Gareth Flowers, trumpet David Nelson, trombone David Bowlin, Jennifer Curtis, violin Maiya Papach, viola Kivie Cahn-Lipman, cello Scott Dixon, bass Cory Smythe, piano, celesta Nathan Davis, Ian Antonio, percussion

Son of Chamber Symphony was commissioned for Stanford Lively Arts in honor of the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation during Lung Cancer Awareness Month, November 2007, with generous support from Van and Eddi Van Auken, and by The Carnegie Hall Corporation, and made possible in part by The Swanson Foundation in honor of San Francisco Ballets 75th Anniversary. Choreographed as Joyride for the San Francisco Ballet by Mark Morris. World Premiere: November 30, 2007, by Alarm Will Sound (Alan Pierson, Cond.), at Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Stanford University. Son of Chamber Symphony is dedicated to Ara Guzelimian. String Quartet was commissioned by The Juilliard School (with the generous support of the Trust of Francis Goelet), Stanford Lively Arts Stanford University, and The Banff Centre. World Premiere: January 29, 2009, by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, at The Juilliard School. String Quartet is dedicated to Joseph Polisi.

St. Lawrence String Quartet Geoff Nuttall, violin Scott St. John, violin Lesley Robertson, viola Christopher Costanza, cello

, composed in 2007, bears an unmistakable family resemblance to its predecessor, the 1992 Chamber Symphony. Both are written for an ensemble of solo instruments (roughly fifteen instruments); both are cast in a three-movement fast-slow-fast form; and both share a highly animated, in-your-face kind of cheeky buoyancy. This might strike one as surprising, given the lineage of the chamber symphony as a musical form, the begetter of which was Arnold Schoenberg, considered by some the most fearsomely serious party pooper of all time. What is a chamber symphony, anyway? Judging from the two that Schoenberg composed, it is a piece of symphonic scale written for a large group of virtuoso soloists. As ensemble in live performance the chamber symphony provides all sorts of challenges, not only to the performer, but also to the listener. Balances are always in danger of going seriously out of whack. Individual string instruments can easily be buried by an overly loud clarinet or, in my case, an enthusiastic drummer. But when acoustical issues have been sorted out, the sound of a dozen or more skilled soloists can afford a musical experience that combines the intimacy of chamber music with the breadth and scale of a full orchestra. What drew me to the Austrian composers eponymous Op. 9 Chamber Symphony of 1906 were its explosive energy and the staggering, acrobatic virtuosity of its instrumental writing. Schoenbergs bounding, fast-moving themes werent so much stated as they were launched like some daredevil circus performer shot out of a canon. The hyper-lyricism of its melodies sounded as if all of Tristan had been compressed into a tiny plutonium sphere, just one neutron short of going super-critical.

SON OF CHAMBER SYMPHONY

Well, OK, perhaps my metaphors need to be reeled in, but there is no mistaking the attraction of this format to a composer like me who normally operates on the large canvas of orchestral and operatic forms. Where my two chamber symphonies differ from Schoenbergs is in the addition of brass, percussion, and electronic keyboards. The 1992 symphony features a drummer on a trap set and a synthesizer. The son includes a celesta, a set of orchestral chimes, and, in the first movement, a keyboard sampler playing samples I made of a prepared piano, the boing of which sets the tone for the first movement. I knew that Son of Chamber Symphony would be turned into a ballet by Mark Morris, the genius choreographer who twenty years earlier had created the dance for Nixon in China and later for The Death of Klinghoffer. Knowing that Mark is one of the few choreographers since Balanchine whose choreography mirrors the formal and metric structure of the music, I thought long and hard about how to design the musical structure. In truth I didnt have visual images in my head while composingI rarely dobut I was nonetheless surprised when Joyride, the title of the Morris ballet, turned out to be one of his most severely abstract creations. Mark largely passed over the humor and occasional wackiness of the piece in favor of a geometrically complex, constantly morphing interplay of eight dancers, all dressed in tight, Spandex body suits, each sporting on his or her chest an LED digital readout of random numbers. The first movement begins with a dropping octave dactyl rhythm (long-shortshort), a musical idea so basic that it ought not to be owned, but alas isby the composer of the Ninth Symphony. Other instruments join in, confounding the perception of pulse until the activity reaches a cadential moment that leads into the first tutti, a boisterous unison melody for high instruments accompanied by jabs and pecks from brass and percussion. From here the music thins out, passing

through a sequence of sudden stops and starts, the unexpected nature of which was cleverly incorporated into the choreography of Morriss Joyride. With its driving pulse, bouncing motives, and spiky, bright-edged surfaces, the opening movement bears the closest resemblance to the earlier 1992 Chamber Symphony. The second movement contrasts this hectic virtuosity with a long, lyrical cantilena for flute and clarinet sung over a quietly strumming continuum in celesta and pizzicato strings. This long endless melody is followed by a different but equally lyrical one played by the solo violin and cello, voiced three octaves apart, accompanied by a gently modulated tapestry of trills and shakes in the winds and percussion. The opening cantilena melody returns, but this time it appears in a parody version, with staccato barbs interrupting and mocking it. This interrupting material finally takes center stage, highlighted by an absurd dotted figure (in prosody a trochee) that manically hops and skips while the opening melody struggles to make do, as if coping with a rude, uninvited dancing partner. I toyed with calling the finale Can-can (French pronunciation: kk), but at the last moment my better judgment took hold. Wikipedia, the unimpeachable source of all my higher learning, describes the can-can as a high-energy and physically demanding music hall dance, traditionally performed by a chorus line of female dancers featuring high kicking and suggestive, provocative body movements. But I decided against using the title because I could not accurately distinguish this from the description of a gallop, to which, so suggests Wikipedia, the can-can is related but in a degraded, decidedly downscale version. Those listeners familiar with Nixon in China will remark another family resemblance herethis time with the News aria sung by the president at the beginning of Act I. For a brief time the third movement is a kind of snarky gloss on that aria,

but it soon departs from the script, taking along only the driving, quarter-note patter of the bass line as it ventures into new terrain with passages that include a short parody of the opening of Harmonielehre (is nothing sacred?) and a final rideout that features a delicately pulsing trash can lid.

THE STRING QUARTET of 2008 was composed for the St. Lawrence String

Quartet, whose performance of my only other work for quartet, Johns Book of Alleged Dances, stimulated my imagination to write something tailored to their exceptional blend of rhythmic drive and high-drama lyricism. The quartetviolinists Geoff Nuttall and Scott St. John, violist Lesley Robertson, and cellist Christopher Costanzapossess a style of playing, perfectly balanced between the instinctual and the intellectual, that greatly appealed to me. Their performances of Haydn and late Beethoven convinced me that they would be ideal performers of my music (and indeed they were, to the point where, several years later, I composed a further piece for them, a concerto for quartet and orchestra, Absolute Jest, based on fragments from Beethoven). Normally impatient with traditional titles, I uncharacteristically defaulted to String Quartet for this one. The only other time Id employed such a generic title was with the 1993 Violin Concerto. It may be that the choice of such an unadorned name for both works reflected a certain awe that I felt in approaching the medium. Historically speaking, both the violin concerto and the string quartet represent for me the epitome of the union of musical form and content. The models from the past, be they from the classical period of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, from the Romantic period of Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms, or from the twentieth centuryfrom Schoenberg, Berg, and Bartk all the way up to

Ligeti and Carterconstitute a compendium of those composers most eloquent and Apollonian statements. My quartet is cast in a uniquely asymmetrical form: a single long first part and a much shorter second. The first part is itself divided into four distinct sections that, taken together, create a fully formed musical structure. Opening with a rippling sixteenth-note figuration punctuated by the offbeat plucking of the cello, the music rapidly evolves into a sequence of intensely lyrical episodes that ride the engine of a regular pulsation, an easily identifiable vestige of my minimalist past. A passage of becalmed stasis provides a relief from the restlessness of the opening; and this is followed by the eruption of a jaunty scherzo section, characterized by fractured dance steps and high-wire melodies for the violins. The energy winds down, and Part One concludes with a slower, muted music, similar to the opening in its restless inner movement. Only in its very last minute does the energy, now sounding as if blanketed by a layer of heavy cloth or snow, finally settle down to a short-lived slumber. Part Two begins with bouncing octaves (not unlike the opening of Son of Chamber Symphony), a high-strung, nervous staccato that charges the entire remaining movement with a driven energy that will only occasionally break for pockets of espressivo that recall the earlier movement. The frequent appearance of the opening bars Morse code figuration at critical structural points anchors the musics growth. Its use might even suggest to some listeners a vestigial version of rondo form. A final coda pushes tempi and activity to the extreme. I make the kind of ensemble and emotional demands on the players that are only possible in that exhilarating and utopian world of virtuoso chamber music. John Adams, March 2011

Produced by Judith Sherman Son of Chamber Symphony Recorded September 1415, 2010, at Sear Sound, New York, NY Engineered by John Kilgore Assistant Engineers: Chris Allen & Tom Gloady Keyboard Technician: Brian Mohr String Quartet Recorded October 46, 2009, Rolston Recital Hall, The Banff Centre, Alberta, Canada Engineered by John D. S. Adams Assistant Engineer: Nathan Chandler Produced and recorded using the facilities of the Music & Sound Program Mastered by Robert C. Ludwig at Gateway Mastering Studios, Portland, ME Design by John Gall Photography by Deborah OGrady Executive Director for the International Contemporary Ensemble: Claire Chase Son of Chamber Symphony and String Quartet are published by Boosey & Hawkes. Executive Producer: Robert Hurwitz

www.earbox.com www.iceorg.org www.slsq.com www.nonesuch.com


Nonesuch Records Inc., a Warner Music Group Company, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104. & 2011 Nonesuch Records Inc. for the United States and WEA International Inc. for the world outside of the United States. Warning: Unauthorized reproduction of this recording is prohibited by Federal law and subject to criminal prosecution.