Kevin Berger of Salon has an interesting interview with John Adams in conjunction with the release of the composer’s autobiography, “Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life.” Read the transcript or watch the video (about 10 minutes).
Some interesting moments concern the inspiration Adams took from Wagner:
I was driving through the Sierras and I was listening to a cassette of “Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” from “Gotterdammerung.” This is sort of surprising because at that time I was deep into John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen and doing a lot of electronic music.
I’d always been interested in orchestra music, having grown up with it, and I was suddenly just seized by the emotional tone of the music, the emotional sincerity of the music. It suddenly illuminated me and made me realize how much of the avant-garde that I’d been involved in had become dead as far as feeling was concerned. The one thing Cage really forbade was expression of feelings. He was the world’s most lovely, gentle person in his human interactions. But when it came to art, things were absolutely cold. And so much of avant-garde music was.
Here we have this great tradition of jazz and pop music in America, where feeling is everything. If you think of late Coltrane, like “A Love Supreme,” it’s just this 40-minute exhalation of raw feeling. I thought to myself, “Why is it that contemporary classical music has to be devoid of feeling?” By hearing Wagner and realizing what had been lost, I think I suddenly very vaguely saw my future. (John Adams)
Other topics include the composer’s annoyance with the meme that he writes “CNN operas,” and a response to accusations of anti-Semitism in “The Death of Klinghoffer:”
I invite them to meditate on the libretto and the music. Because most people who’ve spent serious time with it, and not come with enormous prejudicial baggage, are moved by the human feeling in the work, and the feeling extends to both the Palestinians and the Jews. You can see why it’s so hard to solve these problems like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because people are so completely locked into their positions.
In full disclosure I must tell you that I’m only superficially familiar with the operas of Adams and not a huge fan of minimalism in general. I hope John and David will have a spare moment to comment.