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From the First Night to the Last Night, from a Peckham car park to the Royal Albert Hall, music by John Adams is highlighted at the BBC Proms in honour of the composer's 70th birthday.

The BBC Proms celebrates the 70th birthday of composer John Adams with five works spread throughout the season, from his early Harmonium which closes the First Night on 14 July to Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance, a taster from his new opera Girls of the Golden West, which launches the second half festivities of the Last Night on 9 September.

Edward Gardner is on the rostrum for the opening Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 14 July including Harmonium with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and the BBC Proms Youth Choir. Adams's mesmeric and passionate setting of poetry by John Donne and Emily Dickinson was one of his earliest successes. The composer noted how "from the very start my own brand of Minimalism began to push the envelope. What was orderly and patiently evolving in the works of Reich and Glass was in my works already subject to violent changes in gesture and mood."

Naïve and Sentimental Music, Adams's major symphonic statement of the 1990s, is performed on 2 August by the Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen, the work's dedicatee who conducted its first performance in 1999. The first of the three movements juxtaposes the two creative archetypes of the title - the instinctive and the knowing - through an extended melody, progressively elaborated. The second movement is a cradle song seeking a return to innocence, while the third, Chain to the Rhythm, is a propulsive play of energetic rhythmic patterns.

Adams's Harmoniehlehre sees the Proms travel from Kensington to Peckham with two performances at the Bold Tendencies Multi-Storey Car Park on 26 August. Christopher Stark conducts the Multi-Storey Orchestra in this major orchestral work from the composer's early years. He describes the three movement work as marrying "the developmental techniques of Minimalism with the harmonic and expressive world of fin de siècle late Romanticism" while visiting "the shades of Mahler, Sibelius, Debussy, and the young Schoenberg".

Back at the Royal Albert Hall, Lollapalooza is played by the Pittsburgh Orchestra under Manfred Honeck on 4 September. This six-minute concert opener is one of Adams's 'trickster' works playing on various meanings of the title: something large and outlandish or perhaps a pugilistic reference to a knockout blow in boxing.

The Last Night of the Proms on 9 September includes the first London performance of Adams's Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance, featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sakari Oramo. The five-minute work is is extract from the composer's new opera Girls of the Golden West, awaiting its premiere at the San Francisco Opera in November this year in a staging by Peter Sellars. Lola Montez was a dancer, actress, courtesan and consort of King Ludwig of Bavaria who had to flee Europe to avoid arrest and imprisonment after the 1848 revolutions. Taking her act to the USA she found herself in California during the Gold Rush where she performed her infamous Spider Dance. Adams describes the dance scena from his opera as a "Yankee version of Salome's 'Seven Veils', only without the severed head".

Harmonium and Harmonielehre are published by Associated Music Publishers and all other works by Boosey & Hawkes.

>  Further information on Work: Naive and Sentimental Music

Photo: Vern Evans

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