Tag Archives: John Adams

[7] John Adams – The Death of Klinghoffer

24 May

I think Moon cheated here.

This appears to be (on a quick scanning of the 1,000) the only “recording” that is a video rather than just audio.  And much as I love to listen to Operas and Musicals, Original Soundtracks and Cast Recordings, I prefer to see the work first.  The visuals are often required to understand the story, the nuance, the drama.

I fear this may cause me some problems later on with those Operas and Musicals I have never seen.

Watching theater is not what I’m doing here – that would be a very different blog.  My intent is to give the recordings genuine attention by setting aside time for listening to the them at my desk, on my commute, over the dinner table, lying in bed once the lights (and TV) are off for the night.

I don’t have time in my busy life for watching, only listening.

And Moon acknowledges up front that the audio recordings of this, John Adam’s second “Docu-Opera”, all lack something, that it was the combination of audio with visual that elevated the recording he chooses here to the rare air of his list.

I try to give a 1992 performance by the Orchestra of the Opera de Lyon a fair shot anyway.

Death of Klinghoffer

Death of Klinghoffer










From the first note  it is far prettier than Harmonium.  I experience a sensation almost of relief in the earliest moments, glad that this is less experimental, more melodic, despite the controversial and difficult subject matter.

I was a pre-teen when the Achille Lauro was highjacked.  I remember the name, in the same way I remember the periodic IRA bombings, the airline highjackings, the hostage crises of the day.  It’s just a part of my childhood.  It seems as good a subject as any for an Opera.

And I enjoy the choruses that break up the (for want of a better word) action.  The mostly paired pieces – Night and Day, Ocean and Desert – are big, yet somehow delicate interludes from the bombast of the soloists who boom and wail.  Despite the performers singing in English, the only way to follow the plot is to read along in the liner notes – although this will be true in the non-English Operas to come, I find it vaguely annoyoing to need “subtitles” in my native language . . .

And at the end of the day, neither the story nor the music truly captures my attention, despite spending twice as much time trying to appreciate this one as any recording to date.  A couple of weeks in, I feel I have given it a real opportunity to change my mind (as Shakin’ the Rafters almost managed), but instead it becomes at first background music, later an irritation.  Perhaps it is not minimalist enough for the minimalist fan in me?

I’d rather just listen to Shaker Loops again . . .

Owned before blogging?    No.  (1 of 7.  14%)
Heard before blogging?     No.  (2 of 7.  29%)
Recommend?  Not as an audio recording.  (4 of 7.  57%)

Next Week:  Johnny Adams – The Real Me

[6] John Adams – Harmonium

17 May

This is a tough one.  I generally like Minimalist compositions – my love afair with Steve Reich’s works began my first semester at the University of Sussex and quickly led me to Phillip Glass and, the composer of this week’s recording,  John Adams.  While I don’t hear them often, it is not totally outrageous to find me listening to Adam’s Shaker Loops or Reich’s Come Out.  I enjoy the complexity from simplicity, the huge soundscapes, the zen state it can provoke.

These features are here for all to see in Harmonium, yet in this case seem to irritate me more than engross me.



The biggest barrier is the long, slow crescendo which builds throughout the first “act”.  It begins so quietly that it is inaudible at the levels I usualy set my stereo, or iPod, or computer speakers.  Increasing the volume at the start of the performance makes it uncomfortably, embarassingly loud at the piece’s climax.  I spend more time fiddling with the volume than I do appreciating the music.

It is so strange what can effect one’s enjoyment of a piece of music – there is one particular song that makes me sick to my stomach since I almost got into a car accident while it was playing on the radio – and the inability to just *listen* to this inventive choral symphony has clearly ruined my experience here.

For sections where I can ignore the mechanics of dynamic and just hear, I find the use of text interesting – more painting with sounds than active lyrics – and the effect is powerful.  I appreciate the pulsing, throbbing waves of sound and gradually shifting harmonics as the volume ever increases.  But because I’m constantly fiddling, I’m just not *enjoying* it.

I hope the next recording, Adam’s Death of Klinghoffer, proves less difficult .

Owned before blogging?  No.  (1 of 6.  17%)
Heard before blogging?   No.  (2 of 6.  33%)
Recommend?      I just can’t.  (4 of 6.  66%)

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