AXIOM's 2014-2015 season began with an instant classic of American modernism and closed with a masterwork of the European avant-garde. The performance took place October 17 in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater and featured conductor Jeffrey Milarsky leading the Juilliard School's contemporary music ensemble in three musical homages by John Adams, Harrison Birtwistle and Olivier Messiaen.
John Adams's Son of Chamber Symphony – dedicated to The Juilliard School's provost and dean, Ara Guzelimian – is itself a "take two" of Adams's earlier Chamber Symphony. Where that work is craggy, chromatic, and experimental, Son of is luminous, melodic, and delicate. The first movement echoes with Beethoven (motives from the Ninth Symphony); the second movement features a rhapsodic woodwind melody accompanied by the celeste before growing into a surging climax; and the final movement, borrowing from an earlier work of Adams for string quartet, is a rollicking romp a la the "News" Aria from his Nixon in China.
Beginning the second half of the program, and couched between the program's more substantive anchors, Harrison Birtwistle pays tribute to the poet Paul Celan in Three Settings of Celan. Benefiting the poetry's dark imagery – which all three share – is the dusky, wraith-like complexion of the orchestration with its muted harmonics, droning strings, and paired clarinets, all helping to shroud the introspective melodies of the voice. Lara Secord-Haid is the crystalline soprano in this performance.
One of the true masterworks of the twentieth century, and a work that completely rerouted its composer's compositional style – Olivier Messiaen's avian homage Oiseaux Exotiques – closes the program. Each of Messiaen's birds receives its own coloration and harmonization within an orchestra of woodwinds, percussion, and solo piano. Unfolding in large blocks of alternating solo and tutti passages, the pianist passes off virtuoso cadenzas to equally involved ensembles of orchestral birdcalls, gradually joining one another in dense layers of activity. The pianist Tangku Irfan is the featured soloist.
Hear the full concert on Tuesday, Jan 13 at 8 pm ET on New York Now, or individual pieces below, which will be archived on this page for one year following the initial webcast.