Events & Tickets
Join John Adams, America’s contemporary music icon, as he hosts a live, virtual celebration of his own music, as well as that of a younger generation. Named for a truck stop on the California-Nevada border, Hallelujah Junction drives with a hypnotic pulse, while his Shaker Loops takes audiences on “a ferocious and exhilarating sonic ride” (The Listener’s Club). Adams also shares the music of two composers he champions: 2021 Sphinx Medal of Excellence winner Carlos Simon and the Brazilian-born, internationally lauded Marcos Balter.
Directly following the performance, John Adams and MTT host a live virtual green room with performing Fellows to answer the audience's questions.
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Approx. Duration: 17 minutes
Hallelujah Junction for Two Pianos
Wesley Ducote, Thomas Steigerwald, piano
Approx. Duration: 7 minutes
be still and know
Michael Rau, violin
Amy Sunyoung Lee, cello
Thomas Steigerwald, piano
Approx. Duration: 6 minutes
Ear, Skin, and Bone Riddles
Susan Hellman Spatafora, soprano
Dillon Welch, violin
Clare Bradford, cello
Approx. Duration: 26 minutes
Shaker Loops for String Septet
(1978; revised 1982)
Chelsea Sharpe, Brendon Elliott, Ethan Hoppe, violin
Chien Tai Ashley Wang, viola
Ben Fryxell, Vivian Chang, cello
Antonio Escobedo, bass
Hallelujah Junction for Two Pianos
Approximate duration: 17 minutes
Raised in New England and educated at Harvard, John Adams left the Eurocentric East Coast in 1971 for San Francisco. He found models for his earliest mature works in the large-scale Minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, composers who themselves drew inspiration from Africa, Asia and other non-classical traditions. But Adams soon moved on from “pure” Minimalism, and the Romantic streak that returned to his language fueled his most famous compositions, including the grand opera Nixon in China (1987) and his Pulitzer Prize-winning work for chorus and orchestra, On the Transmigration of Souls (2003). Adams published the following note for Hallelujah Junction on his website, earbox.com.
Hallelujah Junction is a small truck stop on Highway 49 in the High Sierras on the California-Nevada border near where I have a small cabin. For years I would pass through in my car, wondering what piece of music might have a title like “Hallelujah Junction.” It was a case of a good title needing a piece, so I obliged by composing this work for two pianos.
Two pianos is a combination that’s long intrigued me, and the pairing plays important roles in both Common Tones in Simple Time and Grand Pianola Music. What attracts me is the possibility of having similar or even identical material played at a very slight delay, thereby creating a kind of planned resonance, as if the sonorities were being processed by a delay circuit. The brilliant attacks and rich 10-fingered chords of the grand pianos suggest endless possibilities for constructing an ecstatic, clangorous continuum, the effect of which could not be achieved with any other sonorous instrument.
I begin with only the “__lle-lu-jah” of the title (a Hebrew word), a three-syllable exclamation that bounces back and forth between the two instruments until it yields to a more relaxed and regular figuration of rolling 16ths. The harmonies are essentially modal, staying exclusively in the flat regions of the circle of fifths.
Eventually the rambling, busy patter of 16ths gives way to a passage of dry, “secco” chords that punctuate the musical surface like karate chops until they too give way, this time to the serene middle movement. Here the “__lle-lu-jah” motif of the opening is gently transformed and extended above a quiet fabric of repeated triplets. These triplets become the main event as the movement tightens up and energy increases, leading into the final section. Here I take advantage of the acoustically identical sounds of the two pianos to make constant shifts of pulse (“Is it in two? Or is it in three?”). This ambiguity produces a kind of giddy uncertainty as the music pings back and forth in bright clusters.
The final moments of Hallelujah Junction revel in the full onomatopoeic possibilities of the title. We get the full four-syllables—the “Hallelujah”—as well as the “junction” of the by-now crazed pianists, both of them very likely in extremis of full-tilt boogie.
Hallelujah Junction was composed for my friends Grant Gershon and Gloria Cheng, who first performed it at the Gerry Center in Brentwood, California in April of 1998. It was dedicated to Ernest Fleischmann, for many years the guiding light of musical culture in Los Angeles.
-- John Adams
be still and know
Approximate duration: 7 minutes
Growing up in Georgia as the son of a Pentecostal preacher, Carlos Simon absorbed the African-American church music and spiritual ties that have informed his work as an award-winning composer. He went on to study at Georgia State University, Morehouse College and the University of Michigan, and early career highlights so far have included commissions from The Philadelphia Orchestra and Washington National Opera, and recognition this year with the prestigious Sphinx Medal of Excellence. He recently joined the faculty of Georgetown University, where he has continued to write music that crosses boundaries between genres while maintaining his strong commitment to faith and social justice.
Simon composed the piano trio be still and know in 2015, taking the title and reverent mood from a statement Oprah Winfrey made in a 2011 interview: “I have felt the presence of God my whole life. Even when I didn't have a name for it, I could feel the voice bigger than myself speaking to me, and all of us have that same voice. Be still and know it. You can acknowledge it or not. You can worship it or not. You can praise it, you can ignore it or you can know it. Know it. It’s always there speaking to you and waiting for you to hear it in every move, in every decision.”
Ear, Skin, and Bone Riddles
Approximate duration: 6 minutes
After studying piano and composition in his native Rio de Janeiro, Marcos Balter moved to the United States for postgraduate studies at Texas Christian University and Northwestern University. His “whimsical” and “surreal” scores (to quote The New York Times) have made Balter a fixture of the new music community in his adopted home of New York City, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and Tanglewood Music Center among others have elevated him to the top tier of contemporary composers.
In his 2010 composition for soprano, violin and cello—Ear, Skin, and Bone Riddles—Balter took his title and text from a poem included in The Dirt Riddles, the debut collection that poet Michael Walsh published the same year. These vignettes refract Walsh’s experience growing up gay on a Minnesota dairy farm, and Balter’s musical treatment honors the panoramic openness of Walsh’s phrases. Rather than a linear and overtly lyrical treatment, fragments of lines repeat and shuffle through a consonant and cyclical melody, accompanied by spare and glassy textures from the strings. Certain words and syllables emerge as points of focus, drawing extra attention to “the horizon of dirt” or “migrating noises / strong as hurricanes.”
Shaker Loops for String Septet
(1978; revised 1982)
Approximate duration: 26 minutes
Shaker Loops, born out of the large-scale Minimalism developed by Steve Reich and Philip Glass in the 1970s, was a breakthrough work for the young John Adams. In its initial form, it was a string quartet, titled Wavemaker. As Adams explained in a program note, “I gradually developed a scheme for composing that was partly indebted to the repetitive procedures of Minimalism and partly an outgrowth of my interest in waveforms.” Unsatisfied with his first attempt, he expanded the score into a string septet (and ultimately string orchestra) and changed the title to Shaker Loops.
“The ‘loops’ idea,” he wrote, “was a technique from the era of tape music where small lengths of prerecorded tape attached end to end could repeat melodic or rhythmic figures ad infinitum. (Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain is the paradigm of this technique.) The Shakers got into the act partly as a pun on the musical term ‘to shake,’ meaning either to make a tremolo with the bow across the string or else to trill rapidly from one note to another.
“The flip side of the pun was suggested by my own childhood memories of growing up not far from a defunct Shaker colony near Canterbury, New Hampshire. Although, as has since been pointed out to me, the term ‘Shaker’ itself is derogatory, it nevertheless summons up the vision of these otherwise pious and industrious souls caught up in the ecstatic frenzy of a dance that culminated in an epiphany of physical and spiritual transcendence. This dynamic, almost electrically charged element, so out of place in the orderly mechanistic universe of Minimalism, gave the music its raison d’être and ultimately led to the full realization of the piece.”
-- © 2020 Aaron Grad
Aaron Grad is a composer, guitarist and writer based in Seattle. Besides providing program notes for the New World Symphony, he has been the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s program annotator since 2005 and also contributes notes to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Seattle Symphony.
Composer, conductor, and creative thinker—John Adams occupies a unique position in the world of music. His works stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes. Works spanning more than three decades are among the most performed of all contemporary classical music, among them Harmonielehre, Shaker Loops, El Niño, Doctor Atomic and The Dharma at Big Sur.
Mr. Adams’ stage works, all in collaboration with director Peter Sellars, have transformed the genre of contemporary music theater. Of his best-known opera, the New Yorker magazine wrote “Not since Porgy and Bess has an American opera won such universal acclaim as Nixon in China.” His newest opera about the California Gold Rush, Girls of the Golden West, premiered in November 2017 in San Francisco.
Nonesuch Records has recorded all of Mr. Adams’ music over the past three decades. The latest release is Scheherazade.2, a dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra written for Leila Josefowicz.
As a conductor, Mr. Adams leads the world’s major orchestras in repertoire ranging from Beethoven and Mozart to Stravinsky, Ives, Carter, Zappa, Glass and Ellington. Conducting engagements in recent and coming seasons include the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and BBC Symphony, as well as the orchestras in Houston, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Seattle, Baltimore, Madrid and Barcelona.
In 2017 Mr. Adams celebrated his 70th birthday with festivals of his music in Europe and the U.S., including special retrospectives at London’s Barbican, Cité de la Musique in Paris and in Amsterdam, New York, Geneva, Stockholm, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Born and raised in New England, Mr. Adams learned the clarinet from his father and played in marching bands and community orchestras during his formative years. He began composing at age 10 and his first orchestral pieces were performed while he was just a teenager.
Mr. Adams is Creative Chair of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He has received honorary doctorates from Yale, Harvard, Northwestern, Cambridge and The Juilliard School. A provocative writer, he is author of the highly acclaimed autobiography Hallelujah Junction and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review.
The official John Adams website is www.earbox.com.
Celebrated by Opera News for her “perfect yearningly optimistic coloring—golden and radiant," and by Classics Today for her “impressive instrument,” soprano Susan Hellman Spatafora has performed with such companies as Palm Beach Opera, Opera Tampa, Sarasota Opera, Glimmerglass, Central City Opera, South Florida Lyric Opera and Green Mountain Opera. Most recently, Ms. Spatafora “turned in a blazing performance” (Talkin’ Broadway) in the title role of Suor Angelica with the St. Petersburg Opera Company and performed the roles of Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen with Opera Tampa and Mimì in Puccini’s La bohème with Lakeland Opera. Other recent roles have included in Leïla in The Pearl Fishers, Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly, Giulietta in The Tales of Hoffmann, Clotilde in Norma and Anna in Puccini’s Le Villi. Ms. Spatafora can also be seen in the title role in the 2017 Naxos DVD release of Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. Ms. Spatafora’s upcoming engagements include the role of Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus with Gulfshore Opera, Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly with Opera Tampa and the Governess in Britten’s Turn of the Screw with IlluminArts at Vizcaya.
A frequent art song recitalist and soloist, Ms. Spatafora’s recent concert appearances include Verdi's Requiem, Mozart's Mass in C minor, Bach's Magnificat, Brahms' German Requiem, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Andrea Clearfield’s The Long Bright and the world premiere of Allan Friedman’s With Perfect Faith. Ms. Spatafora’s 2020 online performances include collaborative recitals with St. Petersburg Opera and IlluminArts.
Ms. Spatafora has been recognized for her rich soprano voice as a prize winner in competitions including the Florida Grand Opera Young Patronesses of the Opera competition, Palm Beach Opera International Vocal Competition and the National Society of Arts and Letters Voice Competition. A graduate of the master’s program in voice at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and bachelor’s program in voice from Indiana University, Ms. Spatafora has been a participant in the EPCASO and Opera Lucca programs in Italy, as well as young artist programs at Central City Opera, Sarasota Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival. Ms. Spatafora now makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.
A laboratory for the way music is taught, presented and experienced, the New World Symphony consists of 87 young musicians who are granted fellowships lasting up to three years. The fellowship program offers in-depth exposure to traditional and modern repertoire, professional development training and personalized experiences working with leading guest conductors, soloists and visiting faculty.
NWS Fellows take advantage of the innovative performance facilities and state-of-the art practice and ensemble rooms of the Frank Gehry-designed New World Center, the campus of the New World Symphony and home of the Knight New Media Center.
In the hopes of joining NWS, nearly 1,000 recent music school and conservatory graduates compete for available fellowships each year. The Fellows are selected for this highly competitive, prestigious opportunity based on their musical achievement and promise, as well as their passion for the future of classical music.