More than 85 years after Schoenberg wrote his rst chamber symphony, American composer John Adams sat in his study examining the score while in the room next door his seven- year-old son sat watching cartoons. Adams was struck by a moment of recognition in which the hyperactive restlessness of the TV’s soundtrack merged with the music of Schoenberg – presenting the spark of an idea for a modern take on Schoenberg’s pioneering work. Unlike its predecessor, Adams’ Chamber Symphony is broken into three discrete movements, with titles that evoke the character of each segment. In the first movement, Mongrel Airs, snatches of eclectic sound weave into a complex counterpoint above an unrelenting pulse.
The second movement is more laid-back. As the title suggests, it is anchored by a walking bass, above which various instruments offer pensive solos or snippets of thought that are occasionally successful in sidetracking the music into chorus-like interludes. The final movement is fast-paced and frenetic, and perhaps best captures the quality of Schoenberg’s music that so appealed to Adams. Adams wrote: Schoenberg’s bounding fast-moving themes weren’t so much ‘stated’ as they were launched like some daredevil circus performer shot out of a cannon. The hyperlyricism of its melodies sounded as if all of Tristan had been compressed into a tiny plutonium sphere, just one neutron short of going super-critical.