Michael Tilson Thomas and the SF Symphony release recording of John Adams' 'Harmonielehre'

ON SFS MEDIA MARCH 13, 2012
Exclusive pre-release download from iTunes available February 15

Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) and the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) will release a hybrid SACD recording of works by John Adams in conjunction with its month-long American Mavericks Festival in March 2012. Self-produced on the Orchestra’s SFS Media label, the recording features the SFS commission Harmonielehre and Short Ride in a Fast Machine, a work commissioned by MTT. The recording will be available for pre-release by download exclusively from Apple’s iTunes Music Store beginning February 15, the composer’s birthday. The San Francisco Symphony’s e-store is currently accepting pre-sale orders for the Adams recording at sfsymphony.org/store and on February 15 it will become available at the Symphony Store in Davies Symphony Hall. National and international retail release for the recording will be March 13. On March 15, MTT leads the SFS in world premiere of Absolute Jest, a new work by Adams commissioned for its centennial season, with additional performances in Chicago, Ann Arbor and Carnegie Hall.

The SFS commissioned, premiered and recorded Harmonielehre in March 1985 under Edo De Waart during Adams ’ tenure as SFS composer in residence. Adams recalled, “I was a young composer when I wrote Harmonielehre and I had really only written two other orchestra pieces at that point and one of them was Harmonium, which was premiered by the San Francisco Symphony only a few years before that. Harmonielehre was tough coming out… I was searching for what I wanted to say. I knew that part of what I wanted to write for the orchestra was a music that would kind of strum the strings of its repertoire that would play to its strengths… [with Harmonielehre] I really confronted who I was, who I am, John Adams as a composer - somebody who grew up listening to classical music, classical orchestral music, who played in orchestras when I was younger, who conducted, who loved that repertoire, but at the same time was somebody who also grew up listening to jazz and rock and who was very influenced by minimalism. So it’s this rather strange marriage of the driving pulse of American minimalism and the sensuous and emotional and expressive world of the great European masterpieces.”

Michael Tilson Thomas, who conducted the work during his first season as SFS Music Director in 1995 and multiple times since, said of the work, “When a new piece is premiered, it can make a stunning impression. But the real story of that piece is what emerges over time. When the SFS first performed Harmonielehre in the mid-80s it was a life changing moment for everybody who heard it. I heard it first on the recording and I was drawn into the piece in so many ways, its enormous power, but also its tenderness and depth of expression. And now, decades later, the piece still stands up.”

MTT commissioned Short Ride in a Fast Machine from John Adams in 1986 for a Pittsburgh Symphony performance in Massachusetts. Adams shared, “Michael called me back in 1986 when he was opening a new music festival in Massachusetts with the Pittsburgh Symphony and he asked me to do a fanfare. The sort of traditional fanfare with blaring trumpets didn’t really appeal to me, and how do you write a fanfare when Copland has already done it so well? I thought about it and for some reason the connection with Cape Cod came to mind. Years before that I had been there with a former brother-in-law and he had asked me at about 1 in the morning if I would like to take a ride with him in his Lamborghini. I did and once he started up I wished I hadn’t because he drove very, very fast. The idea of a piece that had that combination of excitement and thrill and was just on the edge of anxiety or terror was the motivating force for [Short Ride in a Fast Machine.] The piece starts with the click of the wood block and that wood block never changes, it just keeps driving and it’s sort of like a gauntlet through which a 100-piece orchestra has to pass.”

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