John Adams: Absolute Jest | Album Review

Fri, Sep 11, 2015, 00:00


John Adams Absolute Jest Grand Pianola Music

Michael Tilson Thomas, John Adams, San Francisco Symphony, Orli Shaham, Marc-André Hamelin, Synergy Vocals



John Adams describes his 2013 Absolute Jest as “a colossal, 25-minute scherzo”. It’s a concerto (sort of) for string quartet and orchestra that plays around with bits of Beethoven, many of them from the late quartets. The work was sparked by Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, which encouraged Adams to slice, layer and loop slivers of Beethoven into a decidedly non-Beethovenian montage. The same playful engagement with favourite musical things informs his 1982 Grand Pianola Music. Pianists Orli Shaham and Marc-André Hamelin and Synergy Vocals join the orchestra in a work with a kind of arch – and ultimately a thrust – that make the newer work seem scrappy.