FABER, £18.99 Order for £17.09(free p&p) on 0870 079 8897
Hallelujah Junction, By John Adams
Musical memoirs written with a calm, Californian confidence
Tuesday 11 November 2008
John Adams's Hallelujah Junction radiates a calm, Californian confidence, letting its ideas unfold at a gentle pace.
I'm actually describing the piano piece that the American composer wrote in 1977, but I could be talking equally well about this memoir. Adams's unique touch finds its literary analogue in a style of rare precision. Excoriated as the fast-food king of classical music, and hailed as the rescuer of that art from serialist pseudo-science, he here emerges as a storyteller.
For Adams, composition has always been a form of self-creation. His overriding concern as a student was to protect his voice from influences that might have stifled it. He turned down invitations to "take the veil" in academe, and to collaborate with avant-garde prima-donnas like Robert Wilson.
His early musical identity was formed by his clarinettist father and singer mother, and by conducting sessions with the record-player in the parlour. But other factors were the cultural landscapes through which he moved, from small-town New England to West Coast counter-culture. With Kerouac and Ginsberg as his heroes, and John Cage his mentor, he explored the let-it-all-hang-out scene, while subjecting the music of Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix and Beethoven to detailed harmonic analysis.
His ego prevented him from succumbing to any of the prevailing orthodoxies and he gravitated to a life of solitude. Listening to Wagner while driving through the Californian hills one day, he had a revelation: while Wagner's unchained harmonies represented pure expressivity, atonalism meant expressive impoverishment.
His whole life, he observes here, has been dominated by the collision between acoustic and electronically produced sound. Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Dawn Upshaw and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson are among the dramatis personae, with Peter Sellars – director of Adams's operas Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer – pre-eminent. With Sellars, Adams has made history: the furore surrounding his alleged partisanship in Klinghoffer was followed by a production of this Palestinian-Jewish debate-piece coinciding with September 11. One of Adams's purposes in writing this engaging book is to clarify his intentions, and in this he has admirably succeeded.
tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Christmas comes early to Hong Kong, as millions of bank notes spill out onto busy street
- 2 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public can visit police’s grisly crime museum
- 3 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 4 Vagina canoe artist facing two years in jail defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
- 5 The Queen’s speech 2014: Recap and Twitter reaction to Game of Thrones reference
Felicity Jones on being Stephen Hawking's wife in The Theory of Everything: 'I didn't want her to be a saint'
EastEnders Christmas Day special, TV review: It's all about the Carters this Christmas - and Danny Dyer is brilliant
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Doctor Who: Jenna Coleman to stay on as Peter Capaldi’s assistant Clara Oswald in next series
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader