Here's Jonny
Music to Live By

Atomic Redux

P2160040The second of the St. Louis Symphony's concerts last weekend at Carnegie was full of dark, somber music: Brahms Tragic Overture, Berg's Violin Concerto (with the formidable Christian Tetzlaff), and Sibelius' Tapiola. It was all prologue to John Adams' Doctor Atomic Symphony, which received its New York premiere. Having seen the opera in Chicago last month, I knew what to expect more than most in the hall, but was still taken aback by the violence of the lightning storm, the anxiety of the countdown, the wrenching tenderness of "Batter My Heart, Three Person'd God." Adams substituted instruments for the voices, according to their timbre: trombone for Gen. Leslie Groves, trumpet for Robert Oppenheimer.

P2160042Adams was in the hall for the occasion, and took his curtain calls to loud whoops and hollers from the near-capacity crowd. I chatted with him briefly during intermission, showing him my program from the Lyric Opera.

"You went to Chicago?" he asked, reminding me that the opera is coming to the Met next season.

"Different production," I responded.

"That's true."

I met up with Ronen afterward, who was there with some coworkers from Nonesuch (Adams' label), and we all went down to Loreley to celebrate one of their birthdays. Down in the basement, I had a great long chat with composer Nico Muhly, who was profiled in last week's New Yorker. I asked him if this was how he usually spends his Saturday nights.

"Yes," he said, "but with better ventilation."