Adams: Harmonielehre, Short Ride in a Fast Machine

San Francisco Symphony

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony present a hybrid SACD of John Adams' SFS-commissioned "Harmonielehre" and the MTT-commissioned "Short Ride in a Fast Machine."

The extraordinarily clear, lively sound of SFS Media's sonically spectacular SACD allows details of orchestration to be heard with fresh brilliance and makes this a version no one who loves the piece will want to be without.

- Stephen Eddins, AllMusic.com

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.”

In September 2011 MTT and the San Francisco Symphony capped their Centennial Season Opening Gala program with an orchestral and multimedia performance of Short Ride in a Fast Machine. This performance is featured on the San Francisco Symphony at 100 DVD.

John Adams (1947 – )

Harmonielehre 42:05

1. Harmonielehre: Part I 17:23
2. Harmonielehre: Part II – The Anfortas Wound 12:55
3. Harmonielehre: Part III – Meister Eckhardt and Quackie 11:47
4. Short Ride in a Fast Machine 5:04

Total Playing Time: 47:09


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