Pre-Concert Talk: John Adams at 7 pm.
The living legend of American music John Adams will visit the Prague Spring for his first-ever performance in the Czech Republic. For his concert, in which he will conduct the Czech Philharmonic, he has invited the Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson to present a programme that combines his own works with the music of composers close to his heart – Igor Stravinsky and one of the most successful contemporary American composers Gabriella Smith. “There is an easy argument to be made that Adams is the greatest living American composer,” wrote The New York Times critic Joshua Baron in September in an article dedicated to the composer’s 75th birthday and the premiere of his new opera Antony and Cleopatra at the San Francisco Opera. John Adams’s output interweaves strands of American minimalism, pop culture, and European symphonic music with results that have made him into one of the leading creative figures of our time and one of the most performed contemporary composers of all. This is well evidenced by the main number of the programme, titled Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? The classic three-movement format of a virtuoso piano concerto is replete with repetitive motives, lyrical arcs, and the riffs of a bass guitar, which Adams included in the orchestra. The composition was commission by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the pianist Yuja Wang, who premiered it under Gustav Dudamel’s direction at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2019 and later released it with Deutsche Gramophone.
One of the primary ambassadors of Adams’s concerto is Víkingur Ólafsson. The Icelandic pianist, who rose to prominence with his interpretations of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Claude Debussy, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was dubbed “the new superstar of classical piano” by The Daily Telegraph and “Iceland’s Glenn Gould” by The New York Times. This season Adams will perform his works with the San Francisco Symphony, London’s The Philharmonia, or the Berliner Philharmoniker. The Prague concert will open with Adams’s exhilarating orchestral miniature I Still Dance, which he dedicated to the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and his spouse Joshua Robinson, a former gymnast and swing dancer. The second half of the programme will present the Prague audience with one of the most successful American orchestral compositions of recent years, Tumblebird Contrails, written by Gabriella Smith when she was a mere 23 years old. The devoted environmentalist was inspired by a trip to the coast in northern California. Sitting in the sand by the shore of the ocean, the composer immersed herself in the “hallucinatory sounds of the Pacific (the keening gulls, pounding surf, rush of approaching waves, sizzle of sand and sea foam in receding tides).” The result was an imaginative composition based on the constant transformation of abstract sounds and murmurs into concrete tones and rhythms. Since its premiere in 2014, the work has been performed by orchestras such as the San Francisco Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, or The Philharmonia. Adams’s Prague Spring concert will conclude with the now-classic Symphony in Three Movements, which Igor Stravinsky composed in the US during World War II. Although this giant among 20th-century composers rarely acknowledged any extramusical inspiration, in this case he openly spoke of the work’s reflection of his joy following the advance of Allied forces.