Live Review: John Adams with the NSO; Leila Josefowicz Breaks Out Six String Electric Violin (2010.05.20)
Leila Josefowicz kicks arse. She broke out the “Violectra” for John Adams’ Dharma at Big Sur and you’re glad she’s Kerouac… rather than someone declaiming in best Beat tone Jack Kerouac’s words over the music. (That was Adams’ first idea for this orchestral work. Thank God Adams saw Tracy Silverman playing electric violin at an Oakland jazz club). It’s the sole reason that Leila’s Violectra came into being. It was born to play this concerto.
Dharma at Big Sur is a violin concerto about arrival. It’s about forsaking the East Coast for the West Coast. It’s not just about the cliffs, it’s the emotional shock, the visceral mental shift that hits with a salty, breathless slap at the edge of the Pacific coastline’s steep drops. That was Adams’ journey back in ’71. He shares it with us here.
Josefowicz’ violin is the perfect rhapsode in the midst of the National Symphony Orchestra’s instrumental chorus. The open: a dim orchestral hum, like a single ray of light expanding, mounts to roar – the sound of arrival. Leila’s tone is so clear and round it departs from the usual violin concerto role and becomes a sitar and throbs like an oud. She captures the mystery of reflection that silences the soul who tries to talk about Big Sur’s upper reaches while still on the ledge. And then she bays like a wolf when the night is clear.
The principal violinist leads off the sighing cries of the other violins before surrendering to an echoing solitude as Leila plays on the bridge. The harp twangs, and the orchestra becomes a living wind. Triangle and almglocken lend a touch of gamelan to this pure, glistening sound. Leila enters again with piano enjambments and deep cello cuts.
Somewhere in all this we hear the suggestion of a Latin combo playing in the distance. Leila duels with brass. Trumpets start to bring up the horizon’s height. The piano and keyboard sampler relentlessly cast the rising crescendo, which builds such as to give you vertigo. Leila bays away on the bridge, starting to be subsumed, surrounded by the orchestra without weakening. That’s exactly what you get by going to Big Sur. Your whole little self cries silently in high-toned being: purer, more raw than your average B-more-bound existence. The wilds of Sur, its contrasts and colors, win over and you can’t help but feel reduced in size and nature into a spec of the great, the vast, the glorying pulse (even if it makes you, in paradox, feel larger than life).
This portamento riot for electric violin takes you on a great vacation. If you’re itching for a taste of the California road trip and the music, check this YouTube vid:
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