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Classical - Released April 17, 2020 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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There's nothing terribly new in John Adams' Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?, whose title the composer says he got from an old New Yorker article about Dorothy Day (it goes back to the world of Methodist hymnody in the 18th century), but the work is an excellent specimen of this composer's ability to appeal to a specific audience at a specific time, and it hits all the qualities that have made Adams such a favorite for so long. The work, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conductor Gustavo Dudamel, and premiered by the pianist here, the exuberant Yuja Wang, features motor rhythms, bits of popular influence, and a lyrical slow movement in which Adams says he was specifically influenced by Wang's sparkling style. The rhythms are goosed by an electric bass and a detuned "honky-tonk" piano, which aren't outwardly very apparent but make their presence felt; they are new and logical additions to Adams' arsenal. The result is a work that is a hell of a lot of fun, performed by probably its ideal interpreters, and what could be better than that? Other pianists are going to want a crack at this work. The online version of the album, released in the spring of 2020, ends with Adams' early China Gates, a lovely short work in the Steve Reich vein; a physical CD was delayed by the coronavirus epidemic but was promised for the future and is planned to contain additional pieces. © TiVo
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Classical - Released September 18, 2020 | Cantaloupe Music

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Classical - Released November 10, 2017 | Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

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Classical - Released January 15, 2021 | Naxos

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Pulitzer and Erasmus Prize-winning composer John Adams occupies a unique position in the world of American music. His works stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes. Adams describes My Father Knew Charles Ives as “an homage and encomium to a composer whose influence on me has been huge”. Harmonielehre was a deliberate move by Adams to expand his musical language beyond Minimalism, keeping its energetic pulse but embracing the rich tonal resources of the past to create a work that has accrued an aura of timelessness. © Naxos
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Classical - Released June 14, 2019 | Cantaloupe Music

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Composer John Adams, who lived in Alaska for many years, has written distinctive scores that both evoke the natural world and seem to draw the listener inward with their subtle, detailed soundscapes. Adams' Become Ocean won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014, and Become Desert, a single movement of about 40 minutes, is something of a sequel to that work, inspired by Adams' new home in the Sonoran Desert of New Mexico. Adams' music is difficult to pin down to any one subgenre. It is slow-moving and trancelike, but you wouldn't call it minimalist; it is never static, and generally has no regular pulse. Instead, it is filled with small details that hover at the edge of consciousness, and in turn, relates to the larger programmatic natural context of the work. Become Desert receives its recorded premiere here from the musicians who played Become Ocean, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorale (there is a fascinatingly slight choral part) under conductor Ludovic Morlot. If you haven't heard Adams' music, try this out: you are transported into the world of the music, whose 40 minutes seem to go by rapidly as the almost inaudible finale unrolls. This is music to stand with Aaron Copland's evocations of the American desert. Highly recommended. © TiVo
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Classical - Released May 4, 2018 | Chandos

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - Exceptional Sound Recording
Absolute Jest, written in 2011 and revised a little later, is one of John Adams's most irresistible works. The composer borrows liberally from Beethoven, from the quartets but also the Ninth Symphony, to distil a furious, sumptuously-orchestrated score – alongside a solo string quartet, which could render the work a sort of concerto, Adams has added a harp and a piano, both tuned according to the meantone temperament, a way of blending tones and sounds together – which is rich in allusions ("tattoos", in Adams's phrase) to Ludwig van. The final movement, however, makes no bones about its debt to Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements. Highly original, Absolute Jest was written for Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Orchestra (a Qobuzissime of summer 2015), but the evidence is that every new performance uncovers new facets of the work. The same applies to Naïve and Sentimental Music, written for the Los Angeles Philharmonic (and there exists a superb recording of it, by Salonen with Nonesuch); note though that the score is neither naïve nor sentimental, but ferocious and original; the title is surely a borrowing from Schiller (Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung), which classified Shakespeare and Homer as "naïve" poets. Among some slightly unusual sounds, the listener will note an electric guitar and a piano linked to a sampler… © SM/Qobuz
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Chamber Music - Released September 18, 2020 | Cold Blue Music

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Composer John Luther Adams writes music of environmental inspiration, often of quite a direct sort. One might wonder how it translates to the medium of the string quartet, often thought of as abstract, but the format focuses the mind on the slightly shifting phases and intervals that are the meat of Adams' minimalist style. The first work here, Lines Made by Walking, is explicitly programmatic: it depicts scenes from a hike and thus consists of (musical) lines made by walking. It is, however, as spare in its mode of expression as any other minimalist composition, with falling musical figures in all three movements that flatten out a bit as the hiker reaches a ridgeline in the middle movement. The second work, untouched, has the more abstract movement titles "Rising," "Crossing," and "Falling"; the work explores open string sonorities and harmonics. In its slow evolutions, it is of a piece with Lines Made by Walking, and the listener without guidance might not guess which piece had a specific nature program. The JACK Quartet conveys the monumental quality of Adams' music well, and listeners who enjoy the string quartets of Philip Glass will likely take naturally to this pair. © TiVo
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Classical - Released September 25, 2006 | Nonesuch

The two works on this album reflect the West Coast and Northeastern sides of John Adams' musical personality. He has fused the two tendencies with uncommon elegance over the years, but here he allows himself the latitude to pay more direct homage to several predecessors who influenced him. The Dharma at Big Sur is a concerto for electric six-string violin and orchestra in two movements. Its most immediately striking aspect is the violin itself, played here by the performer who originated the work, Tracy Silverman. It encompasses the range of a violin plus a cello, and it's capable of extended dynamic range and of tones that range from the traditional melancholy to rock aggression. The work was composed for the opening of the new Disney Hall in Los Angeles, the acoustically strong new downtown home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Adams wrote into it subtle orchestral effects as well, deep layers of sound that emerge only intermittently. Adams dutifully described his piece as an evocation of the mystical, somewhat melancholy awe that the Easterner feels on experiencing Big Sur for the first time, but really there is not much in the music that evokes the oceanside. Instead, Adams draws on the music of California composer Lou Harrison, a major inspiration to all the composers with roots in the minimalist movement and a pioneer in transferring the principles of Asian musical traditions to the Western orchestra. His first movement, "A New Day," is akin to a juiced-up Indian instrumental improvisation, with the orchestra very subtly deployed in order to produce drones, sympathetic vibrations, and a final buildup of intensity. The energetic, jazzy second movement, "Sri Moonshine," is the one with the Indian name, but its consistent textures suggest the work of an American composer, Californian Terry Riley. The homages paid in the album's other work, My Father Knew Charles Ives, are more explicit. Adams himself refers to the three movements as "three more 'places' in New England," and the Ivesian mix of programmatic suggestion and spiritual transcendence, which also played a key role in Adams' 9/11 work, On the Transmigration of Souls, is on full display here. The final movement, "The Mountain," is a particularly awe-inspiring expression of the philosophy once stated by the country vocal trio the Sons of the Pioneers -- that "Mountains are altars of God" (in a song called "The Place Where I Worship Is the Wide-Open Spaces"). As he does with his West Coast models in The Dharma at Big Sur, Adams extends Ives' language so that the music sounds like something completely his own; here he uses no electronic instruments, but the background is filled with swing jazz and other music Ives did not know during his compositional career. Adams himself leads the BBC Symphony, which responds beautifully to these complex scores that never sound overblown. The recordings are the product of some high-tech tweaking at two studios on the frontiers of sound, Abbey Road and Skywalker, but the end result is magnificent transparency. This is marvelous new music, colorful, spiritual, fun, accessible to anyone, yet full of the lines of connection that hold together and extend a tradition. © TiVo
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Classical - Released September 30, 2014 | Cantaloupe Music

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Opera - Released October 27, 2009 | Naxos

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The exemplary 1988 Nonesuch release of Nixon in China, with Edo de Waart leading the Orchestra of St. Luke's, with members of the original cast, is iconic for fans of the opera, but a new recording is likely to offer a fresh take on the piece. Naxos' version, with Marin Alsop conducting a live performance with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, is a welcome addition to the catalog. On Nonesuch, Carolann Page did a good job suggesting Pat Nixon's fragility, but she was the cast's weakest link. Her vocal limitations were painfully obvious, and the listener was left with the feeling, in moments like Pat's great aria, "This is prophetic," that there was much more to the music than what she was able to convey. Here, Maria Kanyova is superbly secure as Pat, singing with a rounded, glowing tone. Trudy Ellen Craney as Madame Mao was also problematic, and while Tracy Dahl doesn't sound as strained in the stratospheric role, her voice is small, and this is a part that cries out for a big, thrilling coloratura soprano. Robert Orth's Nixon here isn't always as vocally smooth as James Maddalena's, but he brings to the role an idiosyncratic vehemence and social awkwardness that feel more urgently and authentically Nixonian; this performance makes it sound like Richard Nixon is the role he was born to play. Orth and Kanyova offer the strongest reasons to check out this new recording. Marc Heller's Mao Tse-tung is vocally more solid, heroic, and altogether more attractive than John Duykers', but less quirky and dramatically engaging. Sanford Sylvan's warm and radiant Chou En-lai was a highlight of the original version; his first-act aria, "Ladies and gentlemen, Comrades and friends," was transcendently serene, and "I am old and cannot sleep," brought the opera to a luminous, hauntingly autumnal close. Chen-Ye Yuan manages Chou's music, but his voice is somewhat rough and his interpretation undistinguished. Thomas Hammons reprises his role as Henry Kissinger, and his characterization is significantly more vivid and sharply etched here. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra's tone is leaner than that of Orchestra of St. Luke's, and lacks their warmth and rounded blend. The second scene of the second act, a performance of a revolutionary ballet in which Kissinger is an actor, is so peculiar that it's hard to imagine it making much sense even in the very best of circumstances. De Waart at least keeps thing moving along at an energetic clip, so that you aren't left with time to try to puzzle out what is going on, but Alsop's handling is not only perplexing, it's inert, and certainly the low point of the new recording. Alsop otherwise keeps up the momentum the score requires, and the third act is lovely, lyrical, and lovingly shaped. In the first two acts, though, the transitions between sections, which are genuinely tricky to pull off, frequently sound awkward and abrupt, where de Waart was able to create a seamless and inexorable flow. The sound of Naxos' live recording doesn't come close to the sumptuousness of Nonesuch's version. It's shallower, overall, and the orchestra sounds less integrated. The voices lack the consistent ringing resonance that made the Nonesuch release outstanding. The live audience, though, adds something; its laughter (particularly in Pat's tour of the Chinese countryside) is a reminder that the opera is, in fact, a comedy and has moments that are very funny. While it is not likely to displace the first recording in the hearts and ears of Nixon fans, Naxos' version offers some very fine performances and is one that true devotees of the opera are likely to want to hear. © TiVo
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World - Released May 17, 2005 | Rhino - Warner Records

Naïve and Sentimental Music seems at first like a glib, almost self-deprecating title for a large-scale orchestral work. But that would be beneath John Adams, who has a knack for infusing his appealing soundscapes with weight and philosophy. In fact, Adams uses the word "sentimental" here to convey self-awareness, even self-consciousness. And so the title -- and indeed, the entire piece -- is a deliberate study in the balance and integration of opposites: innocence with perspective, spontaneity with design, and beauty with rhetoric. The result is a tremendous success; Naïve and Sentimental Music is a wealth of ideas sculpted into musical form and yet the listener needs no knowledge of these ideas to hear it to its fullest effect. Since Esa-Pekka Salonen gave Adams the commission that led to Naïve and Sentimental Music, it is no surprise that he and the L.A. Philharmonic deliver an outstanding performance on this Nonesuch release. Every layer of sound is beautifully textured and realized, from the strings -- sometimes icy, sometimes agitated -- to the evocative percussion that dots the entire score with color. David Tanenbaum's amplified guitar adds an especially interesting element to the second movement, "Mother of the Man"; he, Salonen, and the engineers should be complimented for integrating the guitar into the score while still allowing it to stand apart as an individual in a bigger world. The first and third movements are equally successful, each taking on its distinctive mood and character while at the same time feeling like part of a greater whole. This is, in every way, an outstanding recording. © TiVo
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Classical - Released September 13, 2019 | Decca Music Group Ltd.

Hi-Res Distinctions 5 de Diapason
Over the past three years, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (a huge contributor to the Decca label since Charles Dutoit’s lead from 1977-2002) and Kent Nagano have been making an exciting series of recordings, focusing on rare works, namely Honegger-Ibert’s L’Aiglon and Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place. Today, they continue their recording journey on American terrain, with a retrospective entirely dedicated to John Adams. They had left for unknown territory with Bernstein and now they return to town to celebrate one of the popes of minimalism. While Harmonielehre, a vast triptych composed in 1985 (a humble tribute to the early 20th century with perceptible influences from Wagner, Schönberg, Sibelius and Ravel) and the exciting fanfare Short Ride in a Fast Machine composed for orchestra in 1986 have been superbly championed by Sir Simon Rattle (EMI, Birmingham, 1993) as well as Michael Tilson Thomas (San Francisco, 2010-2011), few have recorded Common Tones in Simple Time (the composer’s first work for a large orchestra written in 1979) since Edo de Waart’s recording for Nonesuch in November 1986 at Davies Symphony Hall. The piece recalls Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Kent Nagano’s fluid and gentle touch is perfectly suited to this absolutely fascinating score. Throughout the other works in the programme the American conductor is consistent with his own rather “pointillist” style. In fact, Adams is almost like a modern transcription of Seurat’s paintings. This great clarity in the harmonic superimpositions also reveals the clear influence of Berg and Webern in The Anfortas Wound and allows for new balances in the incipit of the final part of Harmonielehre (Meister Eckhardt and Quackie), one of John Adams’ most striking scores, especially since the tempos and rhythms remain measured here (unlike Michael Tilson Thomas’s interpretation), giving a stirring new version of an unmissable major work. However, the greatest highlight of this anthology is still Common Tones in Simple Time, which almost sounds like a sonic representation of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. © Pierre-Yves Lascar/Qobuz
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Classical - Released March 13, 2012 | SFS Media

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By 2012, the San Francisco Symphony had played about two dozen of John Adams' works, about half of them world premiere or U.S. premiere performances, including seven pieces it commissioned, so it has easy claim on the title of being THE orchestra for Adams performances. Adams wrote the massive Harmonielehre for the orchestra while he was its Composer in Residence, and Edo de Waart led the premiere in 1985. This live 2010 performance with Michael Tilson Thomas leading the orchestra marks the 25th anniversary of the piece. This performance is so extraordinarily fine that it would be pointless to quibble over whether or not it surpasses the terrific original recording with de Waart, but it certainly gives it a run for its money, and may for some listeners have an edge. In any case, it is incalculably superior to its only other real competition with Simon Rattle leading the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The extraordinarily clear, lively sound of SFS Media's sonically spectacular SACD allows details of orchestration to be heard with fresh brilliance and makes this a version no one who loves the piece will want to be without. Harmonielehre is an exhausting, exhilarating work in the way a late Romantic symphony can be, and Tilson Thomas masterfully conveys the complex score's emotional volatility with appropriately startling ferocity. The explosive, pounding chords of the opening of the first movement are viscerally shocking, and Tilson Thomas maintains a sense of the music's urgency though its extended roller coaster of mood shifts. The second movement, "The Anfortas Wound," is a ferocious howl of pain and frustration that Adams said characterizes his anguish over the extended period of writer's block that finally gave way to the composition of Harmonielehre. Tilson Thomas brings catharsis in the shimmering, luminous final movement, "Meister Eckhardt and Quackie." The orchestra's playing throughout is superb: absolutely secure technically, with a luscious, vibrant tone, and with the interpretive and idiomatic depth that comes from intimate familiarity with the music. The album includes a sparkling, propulsive reading of Short Ride in a Fast Machine from a live 2011 performance. Highly recommended. © TiVo
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Classical - Released September 30, 2016 | Nonesuch

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Violin Concertos - Released April 27, 2018 | Nonesuch

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - Gramophone Editor's Choice
In 1994 John Adams composed his Violin Concerto, a work of breath-taking virtuosity written in an exhilarating and strongly rhythmic tone, sign that it was partly conceived for the New York City Ballet; even if the first movement is somewhat reminiscent − with its dreamlike atmosphere as well as fluid and elusive harmonies – of Berg’s Violin Concerto. It’s worth noting that the orchestra, in addition to its traditional elements, features a strong percussion section as well as two synthesisers that further add to the piece’s dreamlike and uncharted hue. That same year, violinist Leila Josefowicz (born in 1977) made her debut at Carnegie Hall in a concerto by Tchaikovsky conducted by Marriner: a big leap into what was to become an established international career. And it’s precisely for Josefowicz, small world indeed, that Adams wrote his dramatic symphony Scheherazade.2 for violin and orchestra: the bond between the soloist and the master is undeniably strong, and her interpretation couldn’t be more faithful to Adam’s original idea. © SM/Qobuz
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Classical - Released January 1, 2014 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

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Classical - Released January 1, 2003 | New World Records

John Luther Adams has lived in Alaska for the past quarter of a century, and wants you to know it: "I've come to measure everything I do against the overwhelming presence of this place [that] has profoundly influenced the atmosphere and the scale of my work." As such, the 75 minutes (the 19 tracks run continuously; index markers are for convenience only) of In the White Silence are more representative of his aesthetic than other shorter pieces that have appeared elsewhere. Like Arvo Pärt and John Tavener, Adams writes music whose unashamedly beautiful surface cunningly disguises rigorous underlying contrapuntal devices; the fact that the entire composition remains in the same basic mode masks subtle rhythmic relationships between its various strata, and the uniformly slow tempo serves to blur perception of the larger form, cogently analyzed by Sabine Feisst in her accompanying liner notes. "Silence is not the absence of sound," writes the composer. "It is the presence of stillness." But in point of fact the piece contains no silence at all. In the sense that Adams openly aspires "to music that is both rigorous in thought and sensuous in sound," the work, sensitively performed by the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble and beautifully recorded, is a success, but if approached with the slightest hint of irony it could possibly disappoint, and even put you to sleep. © TiVo
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Classical - Released February 1, 2007 | Naxos

Booklet Distinctions 4 étoiles du Monde de la Musique
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Classical - Released November 10, 2017 | Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

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Classical - Released September 25, 2020 | Cantaloupe Music

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When asked about three of his signature orchestral works — the Grammy-winning Become Ocean, its sequel Become Desert, and the original source Become River (previously unreleased as an official recording until now) — composer John Luther Adams refers to them collectively as “a trilogy that I never set out to write”. Become River, composed for chamber orchestra, was the first of the three, although it began while Adams was working on Become Ocean for the Seattle Symphony. “Steven Schick and I were having dinner together,” Adams recalls, “and I went on at length about the music I’d begun to imagine. ‘So you’re already composing a symphonic ocean,’ Steve said. ‘Maybe for a smaller orchestra you could go ahead and compose that river in delta.’ He had me, and I knew it. Within a week I’d begun work on Become River”. Collected here for the first time, with newly remastered versions of Become Ocean and Become Desert by acclaimed engineer Nathaniel Reichman, The Become Trilogy pays tribute to a magical partnership between Adams, conductor Ludovic Morlot and the renowned Seattle Symphony. As a whole, the music speaks both to the meditative solace of solitude, and the universally shared experience of living, giving and interacting as a citizen of the world. © Cantaloupe Music