Sunday, November 30, 2014

City Noir, composed by John Adams and performed by the St. Louis Symphony

Last week it was sex and violence, but this week it’s sax and violins.  Yes, it was Robin’s turn to pick a music selection, and she went with City Noir, an album delivering a symphony called “City Noir”, and a Saxophone Concerto called “Saxophone Concerto.”  Classical music.

Robin enjoyed her choice, and latched onto the jazz elements as a guide into a work without words.  Like me, she finds it a bit beyond her conversational skills, but also like me, she finds value in the work.

If you’re looking for an informed and informative review of an important piece of music, look elsewhere.  I don’t know enough about classical music to talk about andantes or sempre or sonic references to prior artists.  At a couple points, I had to ask my more-musically-educated wife “What instrument is that?”  I’m honestly not qualified to review this CD.

But, that’s part of the challenge we took on at the beginning of the year – listen to music we don’t know and react to it.  My reactions are honest, though personal to my own level of knowledge.  If you don’t know classical music, you’re probably in my same boat, and I’ll try to describe what you’ll like and dislike if you listen to this CD.  If you do know classical music, you will bear witness to a swine contemplating pearls, for whatever that’s worth. 

Either way, you probably ought to go read the digitalbooklet that comes with the album.  John Adams, the composer, isn’t bashful about talking about his work.  He claims stuff like, “A moody trumpet solo lingers over delicate shards of harmony.“  Personally, when I read a composer waxing eloquent over his own work, it kind of cracks me up.  Go and read the entire piece, and you’ll find plenty of gems like that.  Here’s another – “In ‘The Song Is for You,’ long, languid, sometimes bluesy melodies arise out of a haze of luminous sonorities, with rippling figurations in the harps, keyboards, and vibraphone floating to the surface like smoke rings in a dark room.”

Well, alrighty then.

The composer claims that he was aiming for a movie score effect, and I really do think he achieves it.  Unfortunately, at times, I had vivid mental images of Jerry tip-toing with a mallet to clobber Tom – I’m not sure Hanna-Barbera was what he was aiming to evoke with his delicate shards of harmony, but that’s what he delivers at around 2:30 in his final track.  Other places, though, are more in tune with his effort to conjure a “film noir” feeling.

Without words to guide us, we are forced to rely on our internal references and cues to assimilate this music into our own experience.  The truth is, for me, my knowledge of classical music is limited to a few of the very basics, which I listen to mostly as background music when I’m working.  I am, I fear, a bit of an ignoramus.

That said this is enjoyable music for the most part.  John Adams writes music designed to bring pleasure, not to baffle you with discord and battling melodies.  I sincerely enjoyed listening to this album, and will listen to it from time to time in the future. 

Next up:  Ryan Adams, by Ryan Adams

No comments:

Post a Comment