* Notes *
John Adams was interviewed yesterday by historian Kevin Starr as part of the JCCSF's Arts & Ideas series. We heard about how Adams came of age when contemporary classical music was hostile to communicating with an audience and about how he came to California in a VW Bug without intending to stay for more than a year. Adams stayed out here, of course, teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for several years. His most famous pieces were discussed including Shaker Loops, Harmonium, Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, On the Transmigration of Souls, The Dharma at Big Sur, and Doctor Atomic.
Adams spoke of the piano as a tyrannical paradigm for composers, and interestingly he learnt clarinet rather than piano as a child. He seems to strive for erudition, Gibbon is one of his favorite authors and he mentioned with disdain that young people do not find it cool to read Henry James or Dante. His advice to young composers was to "know everything." Likewise his comments on opera were rather amusing, that the essence of opera is surreal and that it also is a sort of specatator sport.
* Tattling *
The "high sperm count" of Stravinsky's early works was mentioned, in opposition to his "taking the veil" in his serial period. Adams also spoke about how no one knew what to do with the Belgian-invented saxophone for a good thirty years until jazz came along. There was much teasing between Adams and Starr, and the latter was stumped about where the name for Adams' memoir came from.
In contrast, the audience was on fairly good behavior, there was no electronic noise in the form of cellular phones or watch alarms. Scattered talking was noted, but this was not terribly distracting.