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'Quintessential John Adams'—Midori on 'Road Movies'

Midori's series of blog posts in advance of her March 23 Zankel Hall concert with pianist Charles Abramovic continues today with her thoughts on John Adam's Road Movies.


Road Movies (1995)
I. Relaxed Groove
II. Meditative
III. 40% Swing

Road Movies is quintessential John Adams, although chamber music does not occupy a large portion of his work. After decades of composing large-scaled operas and orchestral works, Adams discovered a gateway into more melodic writing in the early 1990s and ventured into composing for the chamber setting.

Adams refers to Road Movies as "travel music". The first and third movements utilize a rocking, or swinging, rhythm, illustrating the beat of driving on the open road. Adams's distinctive Minimalist and Serialist techniques are in evidence throughout the work.

The first movement progresses in a layered pattern, enhancing the initial picture with a new dimension or showing the trails behind it. Off-rhythms within the larger regulated tempo have a humorous, rather than confusing, effect. The irregularities in this music do not come from complex meter changes, but instead are crafted to be on and off beats in a rather asymmetrical pattern.

In the second movement, the mood is more contemplative, in the style of the blues. The violin's lowest string, the G, is tuned a whole step lower to make it an F pitch. Since the tonality centers on the G-keyin this movement, the F is a 7th pitch going upwards from G (or in reverse a step below the G). This focus on the 7th pitch is a typical characteristic in the blues, and specifically known as the 'Blues 7th'. The lowered G string creates a looser kind of sonority for the instrument, giving the movement a sense of languid nonchalance. This quiet attitude is in clear contrast to the two outer movements, which are defined by rhythmic jauntiness and percussive articulation.

The title of the final movement, "40% Swing," refers to the computer setting on a MIDI. The violin and piano swing side-by-side, sometimes in full concert with each other, at other times more independently. Adams describes the third movement as "for four-wheel drives only" and the listener just needs to hang on for this wild ride.

© 2008 by Midori, OFFICE GOTO Co. Ltd.