by Nick Stubblefield
Bernstein. Mahler. Stravinsky. These men were all highly-respected composer/conductors found in music history textbooks. Flip to the end of that textbook, and one is likely to find another: John Adams. As a long-time admirer of Adams' compositions, I was elated at the opportunity to see him conduct the Yale Philharmonia with the Brentano String Quartet at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall last Sunday.
As I stepped into the hall, moments before the 5 o'clock showtime, I was astonished to note the number of empty seats. I gleefully snagged one near the front.
The program opened with Igor Stravinsky's ballet Orpheus. I was surprised by Adams' choice to start the program on such a slow, gentle tone, considering orchestra concerts often begin with something uptempo and grabbing. (Adams cited Stravinsky as a major influence on his own musical career.) Still, Orpheus is haunting and beautiful, and I was drawn immediately to the delicate plucks of the harp as they nestled themselves amongst a bed of lush, dark strings and sometimes eerie and dissonant woodwind passages.