Tuesday, May 11, 2010

'Twelve plus a dog'

John Adams conducts Washington's National Symphony Orchestra May 13-15 in Elgar's "Enigma Variations," on a program also featuring his own Walt Whitman setting, "The Wound Dresser." The Elgar is "one of those very rare specimens in the arts, an absolutely perfect creation on all levels," Adams writes on his blog:


Adams also hints that he may be influenced by Elgar's 1926 recording of the variations, in which "[t]he string playing is full of rich, drooping portamenti, a kind of melodic slipping and sliding that listeners today only associate with corny old movie music from the silent film era." That would make the critics rave, variously.

ADDENDUM: Chales T. Downey, reviewing the NSO concert for The Washington Post, notes that Adams didn't take Elgar's portamento bait:


POSTSCRIPT: Adams thinks and blogs at greater length on composers' intentions as reflected in their scores and their recordings of them:


This bit is especially good: "[E]xtreme tempi, either VERY slow or VERY fast, are often how conductors (and pianists and other performers) think they can say something special about the music. But more often than not they are only saying something uncomfortably revealing about themselves."