Songs of Exile
John Adams : Scenes and Choruses from The Death of Klinghoffer,
Emanuael Ax (piano), Sanford Sylvan (baritone),
Jeremy White (bass)
London Symphony Chorus,
London Symphony Orchestra, John Adams (conductor)
The Death of Klinghoffer has been surrounded by controversy and has
not been staged since the first performances in Belgium in 1991 and then in
the United States. To an outsider, the controversy seems to be based on the
opera's observant even-handedness between the Palestinians and the Jewish
people in the background events to the hijacking of the Achille Lauro and
the murder of Leon Klinghoffer. Alice Goodman's libretto states the point
of view of each without privileging either, and John Adams' music give the
tragic situation of both sides emotional power.
In the extracts performed in tonight's concert, this was illustrated
powerfully and movingly in the opening choruses of the exiled Palestians,
mourning their lost homes in language derived from Isaiah, and of the
exiled Jews, yearning for Israel in the language of the Song of Songs, but
in a western urban context. Only the psychopath Palestinian terrorist
'Rambo' attracted no sympathy, precisely because he is irrational and uses
crude distortions of history to justify his violence. The implicit message
that injustice and instability can drive people mad seems to be part of the
opera's tragic vision.
The London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra were superb under Adams'
direction, delivering both the underlying simple rhythms and harmonies of
the music and the expressive melodies, perfectly fitted to the words.
Jeremy White, in the small role of the terrorist 'Rambo', looked
incongruously Rabbinical with a big Assyrian beard, but his singing was
heavy and sinister, if slightly unfocussed. Sandford Sylvan sang
Klinghoffer's music and the Bird aria with extreme clarity and a great
sense of the language and drama.
Perhaps the recent fraught developments in the Middle East peace process
have highlighted the absence of clear-cut good and bad guys, and the
presence of a certain amount of good will and pragmatism on both sides. At
any rate, tonight's fine performance was very warmly received. John Adams
in a pre-concert talk suggested that, as Klinghoffer clearly wasn't
going to get another American staging, it might be staged in the UK.
Tonight's audience would agree, though a full concert or oratorio staging
might be as effective.
The second part of the concert was far more playful, but still quite
moving. It consisted of Adams' recent piano concerto, Century Rolls,
performed by Emanuel Ax, for whom Adams wrote it. The first movement in
particular evokes the music rolls of the title, imitating the mechanical
production of music on a pianola, and also the way piano music is produced
within the musical tradition. The second movement is a freer, lyrical set
of studies, always rigorous in their sense of form but also full of warmth.
The third movement, "Hail Bop", returns to the mechanical sound to some
extent, but with a sense of excitement and urgency (presumably associated
with the punningly eponymous comet) deriving from its dance form. Ax and
Adams were both clearly enjoying themselves with this one.