We continue the Consonant Classical Challenge with American composer John Adams. At this point in his career, Adams can hardly be considered an obscure composer. His operas Nixon in China and the Death of Klinghoffer have become best-sellers as recordings (if not completely entered into the canon of operatic repertoire). Adams is often cited as part of the triumvirate of minimalist composers, along with Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
The difference, though, is that while Adams uses the same constant pulse that's a hallmark of the minimalists, he's always been concerned with melodic line. Adam's music should -- and does -- appeal to a great number of people who don't normally listen to classical music.
First, it has the strong, steady rhythm that people are used to hearing in virtually every other musical genre they enjoy. Second, the harmonies are simple and straightforward -- similar to those used by modern popular music. Third, the well-crafted melodic lines give the listener something to really engage with. And those melodies are those that go far beyond the short-winded ones that pop music offers.
John Adams' "Short Ride on a Fast Machine" is a good example of his orchestral writing.
Another orchestral staple is The Chairman Dances from Adams' opera Nixon in China.
And Adams continues to grow as a composer. Here's the middle part of his 2007 Doctor Atomic Symphony, based on his opera of the same name.
John Adams is one of the most successful contemporary composers when it comes to media. His recordings sell very well, and he has a very large non-concert-going fanbase. Inside the concert hall? It's a little different, but it doesn't have to be. If orchestras are serious about attracting the next generation of listeners, then programming the music they already embrace might be a good place to start.
John Adams: The Chariman Dances et al
John Adams: Doctor Atomic Symphony
John Adams: Naive and Sentimental Music