Adams: The Dharma at Big Sur; My Father Knew Charles Ives

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LABELS: Nonesuch
WORKS: The Dharma at Big Sur; My Father Knew Charles Ives
PERFORMER: Tracy Silverman (electric violin); BBC SO/John Adams
In planning Dharma, Adams was


influenced by the observation

that in many traditions outside

European classical music the essence

lies between the notes, in slides,

portamenti and ‘blue notes’. He

originally wrote it entirely in ‘just’

intonation (using intervals different

from those of conventional tuning)

but this proved impractical so now

only the harps, samplers and piano

remain tuned to a ‘just’ scale in B.

Dharma begins with a violin

rhapsody suspended over a drone,

but it’s no ordinary rhapsody and no

ordinary violin. Silverman, playing

a solid-bodied six-string electric

instrument, is required to evoke a

range of music, including psychedelic

guitar and the Indian sarangi.

Like Ives, Adams listened to

classical and popular music with

equal enjoyment and grew up in a

family drawn to the New England

Transcendentalists like Thoreau.

(His father, did not, in reality, know

the great maverick composer.) My

Father, though unmistakeably

Adams, is a glorious re-imagining

of some of Ives’s greatest pieces, a

rich, exhilarating homage full of

quotations which turn out not to be

quotations after all: only a snatch of

‘Reveille’ and a hint of ‘Nearer My

God to Thee’ are genuine.


Barry Witherden