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Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony give the world premiere of John Adams’s I Still Dance on September 19. The work travels to Amsterdam, New York, and London in March 2020.

John Adams and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas’s friendship of four decades has brought about many significant musical collaborations, including the premieres of Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Absolute Jest and My Father Knew Charles Ives; a Grammy-winning recording; and numerous performances of Lollapalooza, The Wound-Dresser, Century Rolls, Scheherazade.2 and his Violin Concerto. This year, Adams has written a new orchestral opener, I Still Dance, in honor of Tilson Thomas’s 25th and final season as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony. The orchestra premieres the work on September 19 at Davies Symphony Hall, with three additional performances September 20–22.

> Sep 19–22: I Still Dance (World Premiere) with San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas at Davies Symphony Hall

An explosive eight-minute work written in a single moto-perpetuo movement, I Still Dance features densely interwoven parts that are driven forward by propulsive arpeggiated figures. A volley of pulse-driven patterns spreads across the orchestra, like one voice finishing another’s sentence. A number of instruments not usually heard in the symphony orchestra setting, including the djembe (a West African drum), the taiko and a bass guitar provide much of the piece’s rhythmic drive.

While mostly high energy and brightly colored in sonorities, the work ends quietly with what Adams calls “a soft landing,” the dense texture gradually thinning out to a pulsing heartbeat in the strings.

Adams has dedicated I Still Dance to Tilson Thomas and his husband, Joshua Robison, and explains that the title is “an acknowledgment of both of their continued youthful vitality.” It is the second piece in recent years that Adams has composed to celebrate a long friendship—the other being I Still Play (2017), a work for piano written for Bob Hurwitz, the longtime president of Nonesuch Records.

Adams describes his multiple collaborations with Tilson Thomas, and the significance that this relationship has had on his career: “I’ve known Michael since 1983 when he conducted Shaker Loops with the American Composers Orchestra, and he’s since premiered several pieces of mine. It was also his idea that I write the piece that became Short Ride in a Fast Machine, which has become my most frequently performed work. I’ve also collaborated with Michael working with the New World Symphony, the founding of which in many ways, I believe is one of his greatest achievements.”

I Still Dance was co-commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and Carnegie Hall, with whom Adams has also had a long association as its inaugural Composer’s Chair. After the world premiere, I Still Dance receives its European premiere at NTR Zaterdag Matinee by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, conducted by John Adams (March 7); followed by its New York premiere at Carnegie Hall (March 18) and UK premiere at the Royal Festival Hall (March 21), both performed by the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas.

>  Further information on Work: I Still Dance

Photo: Vern Evans

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