How great is John Adams? Let me count the ways. His own music is both challenging and mesmerizing. He's a solid conductor - not only of his own works, but those of other near and distant 20th Century composers. And, he is an affable and patient teacher, as demonstrated Monday night at Zankel Hall, where the Ensemble ACJW had their final performance of the season."Working with young players is a true joy," Adams said during one of the set changes. "If it looks like I'm having fun up here, it's because I am."
Unfortunately, I missed Adams' own Son of Chamber Symphony, which I'll blame on the concert's ridiculously early start time (6pm). Jeremy Denk joined the ensemble for Stravinsky's Piano Concerto: his Bach-like fidelity more than made up for some shaky playing in the brass section. But the main event was Louis Andriessen's Die Staat (1976), which sets text from Plato's Republic that reads like what one of Stalin's stooges would have written about "formalist" music in the Soviet Union early last century:
"He must beware of changing to a new kind of music, for the change always involves far-reaching danger. Any alteration in the modes of music is always followed by alteration in the most fundamental laws of the state."
With its repeating themes and clarion brass, it was a startling musical document; surprisingly, this was the first time it had ever been heard at Carnegie. (Adams conducted the U.S. premiere in San Francisco back in the 80's.) For the ACJW, I can't imagine a better launching pad for their careers in music.