Nixon in China for Presidents’ Day

When you think of Presidents’ Day, what names first come to mind? …Washington? …Lincoln? Probably not Richard Nixon. But in John Adams’ 1987 opera Nixon in China, the 37th president becomes a mythic figure of Shakespearian proportion. The three act opera’s plot centers around Nixon’s historic 1972 diplomatic visit to China. In an interview with Edward Strickland shortly after Nixon in China‘s Houston premiere, John Adams said, …My Nixon is not the historical Richard …

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Eros Piano: John Adams’ Journey into Impressionism

John Adams’ Eros Piano (1989) grew out of a nagging obsession. Adams could not stop listening to riverrun, a 15-minute-long piece written five years earlier in 1984 by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996). He described the experience of being haunted by Takemitsu’s music, saying, “I…had the response I often do of writing a piece of my own in order to exorcise it.” It’s almost as if riverrun‘s unborn sibling was relentlessly pursuing Adams, demanding to be brought to life. …

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Phrygian Gates: John Adams, Opus One

John Adams has described Phrygian Gates and its shorter “companion” piece China Gates (written between 1977 and 1978) as his “Opus 1.” Built on an unrelenting sense of pulse and unfolding gradually, both pieces were influenced by the Minimalism of Terry Riley (In C), Steve Reich, and Philip Glass. Process (like phasing and gradually building musical patterns with the addition of one note at a time) lies at the heart of early Minimalism. Phrygian Gates and China Gates may be Adams’ …

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The Coronation Scene from Boris Godunov: Opera’s Biggest Spectacle?

From its origins in medieval and Renaissance courtly entertainment, opera has always been partly rooted in spectacle. Nineteenth century French grand opera used large casts, expanded orchestras, grandiose scenery, consumes and special effects, and ballet to bring to life epic heroic tales based on historical subjects. (Meyerbeer’s five-act Les Huguenots from 1836 is an example.) A sense of theatricality and spectacle is at the heart of the Triumphant March from Verdi’s Aida, set in ancient Egypt. History (this time recent) became …

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Gearing up for the UCI in RVA

My hometown, Richmond, Virginia, is gearing up to host the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) Road World Championships bike race. The event begins this Saturday, September 19 and concludes on the 27th. On Friday at 6:30, the Richmond Symphony will be playing for a crowd of 10,000-plus spectators at the opening ceremonies on Brown’s Island, near the James River in downtown Richmond. In celebration of the UCI World Championships, here is a historical curiosity: Daisy …

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The Wound-Dresser

Thus in silence in dreams’ projections, Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals, The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand, I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young, Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad, (Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have cross’d and rested, Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips.) -Walt Whitman, The …

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Bring on the Wascally Wabbit

The Richmond Symphony season is winding down. But this weekend we’ll be busy performing the popular touring show, Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II with conductor George Daugherty. The show is a tribute to the music of classic Warner Brothers’ cartoons. Generations of viewers gained an exposure to classical music through these zany cartoons, which included: Schoenberg Meets Looney Tunes Cartoons had an interesting influence on John Adams’ Chamber Symphony, written in 1992. Here is an excerpt …

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