Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Prom 50: Copland/Adams

John Adams, with his white jacket, bow tie and white beard, looks like an old Southern gentleman, possibly Mark Twain or something like that. This is what I keep telling myself in an attempt to drown out the other thought: that he looks a bit like Colonel Sanders. The ploy almost works.

I remember playing Copland's Billy the Kid Suite at school, and quite enjoying it. With more years' experience, I now realise it's not one of his better pieces. In fact, in all honesty, it's pretty dull, something a slightly scrappy performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra does nothing to belie.

My companion remarks that Billy the Kid is the sort of piece that gets played to children to make them like classical music. She's right, and it's a shame. What we should be playing The Kids is something like John Adams' Century Rolls, which follows. It takes me a while to get into this, possibly because I'm slightly jaded from the Copland (I find myself wondering if I'm suffering Proms fatigue), but soloist Olli Mustonen and the band win me over. In the slow movement there's hints of Satie and Rachmaninov, while the driving, angular finale has echoes of Nancarrow and even Ligeti. Which is obviously a Good Thing.

The other Adams work in this prom, his new "Doctor Atomic Symphony" derived from his recent opera about Robert Oppenheimer, is, I fear, not on the same level. The ideas are thin, and spread thinly, the whole thing waffles on without really going anywhere, it's bitty and fussy and frequently sounds like second rate John Williams or Ennio Morricone. There are some nice enough moments, but to paraphrase Rossini, too many bad quarter hours. We find ourselves struggling not to fidget, and when the end finally comes after what seems like an interminable age, we clap politely and make our way out without waiting for the inevitable curtain calls.

No comments: