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

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 26, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Featuring two highly-acclaimed commissioned orchestral works, The Dharma At Big Sur and My Father Knew Charles Ives, performed by the BBC Sumphony with Adams himself conducting. While panoramic in scope, these multi-part pieces are also deeply personal in nature. Described as "autobiographical sound memories" by the BBC, they evoke the well-traveled American composer's east coast/west coast life and wide-ranging musical education.

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This is a splendid addition to the Adams discography, one that follows him from New England to California. Dharma at Big Sur is a concerto for electric violin. It begins by evoking the West's sun and easy living, but this is more than a musical piece of nature-painting. It rambles ambiently for a while before landing in an Indian raga, jazzy mode and ends with a type of heavenly good-naturedness. The electric violin is played by Tracy Silverman; a sixth string allows for the sonorous tones of the cello. The other work, presented on a second CD (so as to avoid culture shock?) is My Father knew Charles Ives, which, while apparently untrue, lets us know that Ives's New England sound and his wacky one-on-top-of-the-other methods will be found here, and, indeed, they are. It pays homage to some of Ives's music (the trumpet from his "The Unanswered Question" is clear here), but more than that, in its various sections ("The Lake;" "The Mountain") it evokes the nature of New England as picturesquely as Ives does, and parallels Adams's California in Dharma A pair of fascinating works, at times a bit thorny, but well worth it. --Robert Levine

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. The Dharma At Big Sur: II. Sri Moonshine

Disc: 2

  1. My Father Knew Charles Ives: I. Concord
  2. My Father Knew Charles Ives: II. The Lake
  3. My Father Knew Charles Ives: III. The Mountain


Product Details

  • Composer: JOHN ADAMS, BBC SYM ORCH
  • Audio CD (September 26, 2006)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B000HRMDT2
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #98,210 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Suh on October 8, 2006
Format: Audio CD
I have to say I was getting worried that John Adams was becoming a has-been. El Nino's first half was much better than the second, I didn't particularly like Transmigration and I defy anyone to listen to his 2001 piano work American Berserk and tell me it's any good. But after this release, I stand humbly corrected -- he's still, in my opinion, America's, if not the world's, best living composer.

Dharma at Big Sur is scored for an electric violin and orchestra and uses a tuning system that's not well-tempered. What really makes this work special is the way the electric violinist plays soulfully and beautifully above the orchestra for almost the entire work in a sliding style I've never heard before in classical music. The first movement "A New Day" with its quiet and contemplative opening really feels like it's the creation of an entire universe. The climax of the second movement might be the most satisfying conclusion to any of Adams's works to date. Dharma is an absolute masterpiece.

My Father Knew Charles Ives is wonderful too, even if it's not as powerful or moving as Dharma. The work is both an homage to Ives and a reflection of Adams' life. Clearly, Adams had a great childhood. The first movement, Concord, is playful -- the clearest tribute to Ives, since it's sounds structurarlly similar to his Fourth of July. The chaos in Adams' Concord is a little more rigid than Ives', but it's still fun. The second movement, "The Lake", features a beautiful clarinet line that evokes the composer's father. The scurrying of the last movement, "The Mountain", seems needlessly frenetic at times, but the cathartic ending that results of it makes the voyage worth it.

My one bone to pick is with Nonesuch.
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Format: Audio CD
The music of John Adams has always been both distinctively personal and at the same time evocative of numerous other kinds of music. In that regard, it's Post-Modern in the best sense of the word: able to combine old things in new and provocative ways. If there were echos of 1940s Big Bands in Adams' "Fearful Symmetries," and a near-quote from Stravinsky's "Song of the Nightingale" in Adams' "Slonimsky's Earbox," then this new double CD is a continuation of that trend. The source for Adams' collage technique is clearly Charles Ives: what made "The Transmigration of Souls" into such a beautiful piece is the use of Ivesian techniques of collage to create a deeply American music of profound emotional impact. So "My Father Knew Charles Ives" is the latest manifestation. I would caution buyers who don't know Ives' "Three Places in New England" that you almost need to know that work before you hear Adams' piece to understand how fully Adams has modeled his music on Ives. The Dharma at Big Sur is a double homage as well. The first movement is inspired by Lou Harrison (who was my teacher) and the second movement by Terry Riley (who's a friend), so it was interesting to hear how Adams managed to be himself while evoking the work of two other composers. My only quibble with this beautiful sounding and looking disk is the wastefulness of issuing it on two CDs. Even if Nonesuch only makes you pay the price of a single CD, the two works together are barely an hour long, and it just seems a little over the top to put each work on its own CD. But hey, I guess if they were issuing MY music that way, it wouldn't seem overdone.
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More evidence that John Adams is one of the world's greatest living composers. Both works are full of the beauty and complexity that we have come to hope for from the composer of Nixon in China, Harmonielehre, and Century Rolls. The Ives piece is possibly the most brilliant imitation of another composer I have ever heard. Highly recommended to any serious music lover.
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By Ba'alzamon on September 28, 2006
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
this is for the fisrt disc 'Dharma at Big Sur' i have not even listened to the second disc as of yet.

I've been waiting since i heard a rebroadcast of the L.A.premiere (2003) shortly after the actual live premiere and have been impatiently awaiting this release. That's about 3 years and i felt every frickin second of it!

I was driving to work the night it was being rebroadcast and I was just overwhelmed, not by the idea of an electric violin because to me that's really not that 'out there' but yet i was overpowered with emotions of excitemnt and a sort of 'awakening.' My eyes actually widened as the performance continued until i reached my work and i just sat there in my car listening, not wanting to leave any amount of the piece unlistened to. I eventually started work that night being about 20 min late but i just didn't care.

Let me tell you i bugged my local classical radio station who actually did the rebroadcast if they could give me a copy or something. I Bugged nonesuch records. I tried having it played on request nights so that i could record it on my computer. Finally three years later i get an email from nonesuch and i shortly thereafter purchase this amazing piece of work.

Looking back at all my reactions and after reading the booklet inside the cd case, I find myself amazed that all of those feelings from first eye opening discoverey and overwhelming emotion then agonzing wait to 'achieve' (in my case get the music again) and giving in to the wait and to a final fierce almost angry capturing of what you longed to have again after a very long journey, were all part of what John Adams tried to capture.

who'd of thought buying a cd could be so gratifying? Definately worth the 20 bucks.
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