Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Chairman Dances, program notes

The GDYO presents "Young Virtuoso" on March 6 at the Meyerson Symphony Center. One of the works performed will be the Chairman Dances by John Adams. Below is the program note written by Brendan Kim in the first violin section.

The Chairman Dances (Foxtrot for Orchestra)
John Adams
Born February 15, 1947 in Worcester, Massachusetts
Currently residing in California

Of the many art forms that have formed over history, opera remains a timeless display of international culture, as well as a flexible vessel for musical expression. As part of his first opera, Nixon in China (1987), John Adams graced the culture of American classical music with his enduring foxtrot, The Chairman Dances. One of Nixon in China’s most frequently performed excerpts, The Chairman Dances catapulted Adams’s career and placed him on the map as one of America’s most prominent modernist composers. Interestingly, this twelve-minute foxtrot was premiered one year before the opera. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Lukas Foss, first performed The Chairman Dances on January 31, 1986.
Early inspiration
As a child, Adams was influenced greatly by orchestras that visited his town in New Hampshire. He marveled intensely at the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Robert Shaw Chorale, and any other music group that performed near him. Through this early exposure to music, Adams was deeply inspired. Now, as a famous composer, Adams reflects that “orchestra players probably groaned at the thought of playing at Concord, New Hampshire, but who would have known that in the audience was a ten year old boy ready to have a life-changing experience?” Adams holds this notion dear to him whenever he conducts his works in front of audiences. His concerts are therefore personal and sentimental to his own early inspiration.
Education and Rock’n’Roll
Adams attended Harvard University, where he became exposed to the new wave of rock’n’roll. At Harvard, Adams became a Beatles fan and branched out to jazz, particularly enjoying the tunes of Miles Davis and Duke Ellington. Coming of age during the Golden Age of Rock, Adams immersed himself in the new bands of the 1960s; however, he still kept the works of Beethoven and Sibelius close to him, developing his distinctive minimalist fusion style that has become such an American staple today.
About the piece
The Chairman Dances is a foxtrot for orchestra - a musical composition cast in the form of a swift ballroom dance in 4/4 time. Here, Adams’s modernist style rears its head - the foxtrot was originally danced to ragtime music and later to rock and roll works. Even today, big bands perform lively music to accompany this dance. Adams certainly kept these roots in mind with this piece.
Nixon in China dramatized President Richard Nixon’s February 1972 trip to Beijing, China. Each of the opera’s three acts represents one day of the visit. Act III takes place in the Great Hall of the People, in which a lavish banquet is held. During this banquet, however, interesting events take place. A woman known as The White-Boned Demon crashes the party and starts adorning the hall with paper lanterns. She then changes costumes and dons a cheongsam, a skin-tight traditional Chinese dress for women, and motions for the orchestra in the Hall to start playing a foxtrot as she extemporaneously dances to its rhythm. Inspired by the White-Boned Demon, Chairman Mao quickly joins her in the revel and dances, hence the name The Chairman Dances. The tune and rhythm of the minimalist foxtrot clearly portrays the youthful gaiety and optimism the couple merrily displays. Instrumentation for this piece comprises 2 flutes, 2 piccolos, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bass clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 B♭ trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, glockenspiel, vibraphone, xylophone, crotales, sandpaper blocks, high and medium wood blocks, crash cymbal, high-hat, suspended cymbal, suspended sizzle cymbal, claves, bell tree, triangle, tambourine, castanets, snare drum, pedal bass drum, timpani, piano, harp, and strings.
Brendan Kim, Violin I

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