John Adams and David Lang: Masters of the Modern Holiday Oratorio

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lennygoran
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John Adams and David Lang: Masters of the Modern Holiday Oratorio

Post by lennygoran » Mon Dec 24, 2018 12:20 pm

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I wasn't that aware of what this work by Adams was really about but it sure sounds like quite an experience. I'm also unfamiliar with the Lang work. Here's what 2 people reviewing for Amazon had to say. Regards, Len


1. John Adams' modern Nativity oratorio is not only the best thing he's written since "Nixon in China," it may be the best thing he's written. Filled with his usual driving rhythms and supple vocal lines, as well as more unusual features like a trio of countertenor angels, acoustic guitar, and settings of contemporary Latin American poetry, "El Niño" is big, bold and powerful without sounding busy or pretentious. The vocal performances are all heartfelt and perfectly nuanced, bringing out an emotional dimension in the Biblical characters rarely seen in more traditional approaches. It is a work that dares to be something both honest and majestic, and succeeds on every level. This is what new American music should be; and it deserves hearing by more than just fans of classical music.



2. Having just witnessed El Niño performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra I have to say that it is truly astounding how well Adams succeeds in creating a true twenty-first century oratorio. He has said that he wanted to write his own Messiah, because he loves Handel's so much. I wonder how many listeners are aware how deftly he has transformed the difficult, narrative recitatives of baroque practice into the haunting "greek chorus" of three countertenor voices? Or how he pays tribute to Handel's famous manner of illustrating the imagery in the text with the vocal writing? Or how brilliantly like Bach he tempers the holy rejoicing with deeply personal expressions of terrible pain and terror?

I'm sure the Sellars staging in the original was impressive but I was glad to have an opportunity to experience the music only, which sustains the listeners' attention as surely as does Handel's oratorio.

This recording is to be prized for another reason. The truly great Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, one of the most electrifying stage presences in classical music in our times, died of cancer last summer. And now the news that Dawn Upshaw, the other, spectacular lead female singer, is battling the same disease. They would both have been featured in this Boston production, but one is gone and the other has canceled her season while she battles the disease. Here they are on this beautiful recording, as they will not be heard together again.





John Adams and David Lang: Masters of the Modern Holiday Oratorio


By Joshua Barone

Dec. 23, 2018

New Yorkers are never wanting for Handel’s “Messiah” during the holidays. It’s on the calendar of every major concert hall and may be the only musical work performed in all five boroughs this month.

Nothing could dethrone Handel’s oratorio, but worthy alternatives in choral music are out there. (And I’m not just talking about Bach.) The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently offered two modern holiday oratorios that are intimate, affecting and quietly rich with activism: John Adams’s “El Niño” and David Lang’s “the little match girl passion.”



As part of the soprano Julia Bullock’s yearlong residency with the museum, “El Niño” came to the Fuentidueña Chapel at the Met Cloisters on Friday in the program “Nativity Reconsidered” — though a more appropriate title would have been “Nativity Condensed.” This was the premiere of a new version of the work, trimmed by an hour and arranged (by Preben Antonsen, with contributions by Chad Cannon and Christian Reif) for four singers and a small ensemble, conducted by Mr. Reif.

Such a small scale may sound nothing like “El Niño,” a sweeping, nearly two-hour Nativity oratorio written for vocal soloists, a trio of countertenors, a full orchestra and choir, and a children’s chorus. In her program notes for the Met, Ms. Bullock called it one of the greatest collaborations of Mr. Adams and Peter Sellars, who compiled the libretto’s text and directed the work’s staged premiere in 2000.

I’d tend to agree with Ms. Bullock. The daunting “El Niño” doesn’t get performed often, which is a shame because it may be the peak of Mr. Adams and Mr. Sellars’s partnership: the awesome choral and orchestral writing of “Nixon in China,” and a poignant found-text libretto that shows a restraint lacking in later operas like “Doctor Atomic” and “Girls of the Golden West.”

The abbreviated “El Niño,” however, showcases just a slice of the work’s greatness. Gone are the choruses (even the dizzying Part I finale “The Christmas Star”) and some of the most earthshaking instrumental passages. What remains are about a dozen of the oratorio’s more meditative and lyrical numbers that dramatically streamline the Nativity story. It’s not necessarily worse — just unfortunate if you know what else is possible with this piece.



Some of the sections were spoken where they used to be sung, giving Friday’s performance the feel of a Catholic Mass’s readings and responses. The concert began with Ms. Bullock, standing under an apse depicting the Archangel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, reciting an English translation of Rosaria Castellanos’s poem “La Anunciación” over a cello drone. Joined by the mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges, she sang “Se habla de Gabriel,” a melodic duet with a coda by the bass-baritone Davoné Tines.

With these three singers, “El Niño” was in safe hands. They starred in “Girls of the Golden West” last season at San Francisco Opera; Ms. Bullock was also a standout in the recording of “Doctor Atomic” released this year. So they were well equipped to navigate Mr. Adams’s vocal music: its exquisite and enveloping lyricism, but also the way it treats syllables as musical notes to be repeated and rearranged, creating an entire breathless passage from a single word.



Ms. Bullock, her voice by turns warm and teeming with urgency, felt at times larger than the chapel itself: towering in the “Magnificat” and chilling “Memorial de Tlatelolco.” And the way she programmed “El Niño” elevated an already-revisionist work to something much more powerful.

She put together the concert with help from the fledging yet formidable American Modern Opera Company, which supplied instrumentalists. (She is a member, as are Mr. Tines and Mr. Costanzo.) While “El Niño” reclaims the Nativity story for women — shifting the focus to Mary and motherhood, and incorporating texts by female poets from Latin America — Ms. Bullock went a step further by bringing the piece, and performers of color, to a space typically associated with European history and power.

There is subtle activism, too, in “the little match girl passion” (2008), which the Choir of Trinity Wall Street — led by Julian Wachner, a master of “Messiah” as well — recently sang at the Met’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. Mr. Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio blends the form of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” with Hans Christian Andersen’s story about a poor girl who tries to sell matches on the street but is ignored and freezes to death, for a haunting portrait of homelessness during the holidays.

Mr. Lang’s music here is direct but not forceful, and simple enough to linger in your mind long after a concert. In the passages where the little match girl’s story is told, the text comes through with crystal clarity; there is no way to avoid the details of her sorrowful tale.

The small ensemble of Trinity singers, some doubling as percussionists, responded to the score in kind, performing with compassion. Mr. Wachner kept them so quiet, his hands almost never came above his waist while he conducted; by contrast, he practically danced through Handel’s spirited Dixit Dominus in the evening’s second half.

Like the reduced “El Niño,” Mr. Lang’s piece is brief. In the future, the two could make for a stirring double bill. One oratorio would prompt you to reconsider the story of Christmas; the other, to think twice before ignoring someone in need as you head home.




https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/23/arts ... ssion.html

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Re: John Adams and David Lang: Masters of the Modern Holiday Oratorio

Post by Lance » Mon Dec 24, 2018 3:02 pm

This would be of great interest to me. Somehow, I missed this oratorio but soon should have it!
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lennygoran
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Re: John Adams and David Lang: Masters of the Modern Holiday Oratorio

Post by lennygoran » Mon Dec 24, 2018 7:59 pm

Lance wrote:
Mon Dec 24, 2018 3:02 pm
This would be of great interest to me. Somehow, I missed this oratorio but soon should have it!
Lance I'm interested too-there's not enough on youtube that I've found for me to learn that much. Regards, Len

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Re: John Adams and David Lang: Masters of the Modern Holiday Oratorio

Post by Lance » Sat Dec 29, 2018 12:06 am

El Nino arrived today - and I am auditioning it right now. So far, like what I hear! Sometimes I am reminded of the structure of Carl Orff's "Carmina burana".
Nonesuch 79634, 2 CDs.
Lance G. Hill
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______________________________________________________

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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jserraglio
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Re: John Adams and David Lang: Masters of the Modern Holiday Oratorio

Post by jserraglio » Sat Dec 29, 2018 3:08 am

https://www.rsb-online.de/konzerte/john ... -nino/John Adams

DVB-S
„El Niño“
Ein Weihnachtsoratorium für Soli, Kinderchor, gemischten Chor und Orchester

Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin

Rosemary Joshua, Sopran
Measha Brueggergosman, Mezzosopran
Davóne Tines, Bariton
Daniel Bubeck, Countertenor
Brian Cummings, Countertenor
Steven Rickards, Countertenor

Kinderchor des Georg-Friedrich-Händel-Gymnasiums
Jan Olberg, Choreinstudierung
Rundfunkchor Berlin


Philipp Ahmann, Choreinstudierung

Leitung: Vladimir Jurowski

Aufnahme vom 15.12.2018 aus der Konzerthaus Berlin

jserraglio
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Re: John Adams and David Lang: Masters of the Modern Holiday Oratorio

Post by jserraglio » Sat Dec 29, 2018 4:02 am

BBC Review, 2002, of the Nonesuch recording

For some people this will be the perfect Christmas present, a gift with real meaning.

by Andrew McGregor

El Niño has existed for less than a year, yet it feels like longer already. And while I know it's pretty pointless trying to predict which new works will still be getting public performances in twenty years time, I feel like sticking my neck out on this one. John Adams's nativity oratorio is a winner, a very palpable hit - an intelligent, emotional and sometimes magical re-telling of the old, old story from a new perspective. Adams wants us to experience the birth of the child from the mother's point of view, and realising that the traditional biblical texts couldn't possibly do this on their own, he's drawn on a wide variety of sources to engage our emotions: Hildegard of Bingen, poems by Hispanic women, even the Apocrypha and the Wakefield Mystery Plays.

Adams asks us to think about the miracle of birth afresh, and to help us he's devised one of his most rewarding scores. Those familiar Adams-isms are all there: the chugging chords, the motor-rhythms, the stammering vocal lines familiar from his operas...but there are references to Bach oratorio and Handel as well, and some of the most beautiful episodes I've heard in any of his music.

The recording was made during the original production run at the Châtelet Theatre in Paris, and you can tell the cast has the music in their bones. Dawn Upshaw brings a beautiful simplicity to Mary, Willard White is magnificent as the angry, baffled and then humbled Joseph, and the chorus of three counter-tenors is really effective. The performance gets the atmospheric recording it deserves, and shorn of the dizzying multimedia kaleidoscope that was the original Peter Sellar's production, El Niño emerges with a new radiance and beauty on record.

At a time when other major companies are putting yet more Messiah recordings on the Christmas market, Nonesuch should be thanked for offering such an eloquent alternative. For some people this will be the perfect Christmas present, a gift with real meaning.

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Re: John Adams and David Lang: Masters of the Modern Holiday Oratorio

Post by Lance » Mon Dec 31, 2018 1:01 pm

Well, I've had a chance to listen to the whole oratorio. There are some golden moments therein, but, over all, I was not that impressed with some of the music. I must listen again to reconsider it from my own point of view. Do I think it will go down in history as one of the great oratorios of current times? Hard to say. Until it appeared on a CMG board, I did not previously know of the work. We just don't hear that much about it.
Lance G. Hill
Editor-in-Chief
______________________________________________________

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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