Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Tuesday, June 13

John Adams goes for a ride

Synopsis

"You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn't?" That's how the American composer John Adams described his orchestral miniature "Short Ride in a Fast Machine," which received its premiere on today's date by the Pittsburgh Symphony at the 1986 Great Woods Festivals in Mansfield, Massachusetts. Since then, Adam's "Short Ride" has had a "long run"—it now ranks as one of the most-frequently performed of all contemporary American orchestra pieces.

From 1979 until 1985, Adams served as the San Francisco Symphony's first Composer-in-Residence. In notes for a Symphony program, the late Michael Steinberg had these comments about Adams' "ride."

"'Short Ride in a Fast Machine' begins with a marking of quarter notes (woodblock, soon joined by the four trumpets) and eighths (clarinets and synthesizers); the woodblock is fortissimo and the other instruments play forte. Adams describes the woodblock's persistence as 'almost sadistic' and thinks of the rest of the orchestra as running the gauntlet through that rhythmic tunnel."

Another commentator suggested that "this music is like a roller coaster that just goes fast as the dickens. It's also hair-raisingly difficult to play."

The composer determined the tone of the four-minute piece when he marked at the beginning of the work "Delirando," which means "delirious."

Music Played in Today's Program

John Adams (b. 1947) Short Ride in a Fast Machine San Francisco Symphony; Edo de Waart, cond. Nonesuch 79453

Additional Information

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