John Adams | Photo by Vern Evans

Hit play below to listen to our Arts Alive feature with Orli Shaham discussing John Adams’ Grand Pianola Music.
 


 

Picture this: you’re driving down the 5 Freeway in the Central Valley. All of a sudden, in your rear view mirror you see two 30-foot stretch limos. As they pull up beside you, you notice that these limos aren’t your average everyday limos. They are, in fact, the world’s longest Steinway grand pianos, traveling at 90 miles-per-hour on the freeway.

That scene has never actually happened, but it was the inspiration for a piece of music by composer John Adams. The piano/limousine hybrids appeared in a dream that Adams had years ago and that dream inspired his Grand Pianola Music, a piece Adams wrote in 1982 and one that he says, “seems to have something to offend everybody.” There’s all sorts of noisemakers in the percussion section, three female voice parts, and the two piano soloists often play their parts just slightly out of synch with one another.

One of the soloists is Orli Shaham. She tells me she’s a big fan of the music of John Adams.

Orli Shaham | Photo by Christian Steiner

“I fell in love with the music of John Adams when I first heard his Century Rolls piano concerto. I had heard other pieces of his that I had liked quite a bit, but maybe because it was for piano, it suddenly spoke to a part of me that was much stronger. Since then, I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting him many times. We’ve become quite good friends. I’ve worked with him as a conductor and also recorded some of his music. That close collaboration you have with a composer when you are recording his or her music is very personal and intimate in that way.”

Shaham tells me she has performed Adams’ Grand Pianola Music with Adams and pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin, as she will this weekend with the LA Phil.

“Reliving an older piece of [Adams’] with him as a collaborator and seeing him, through the rehearsal process, figure out the sounds in the way that he intended them, I mean, this is the dream. We all want to know exactly what did the composer intend here? And here’s your chance: the composer is right there five feet away from you! You can know exactly what the composer intended. I find it so creatively satisfying to work with a composer of his intellect and just creative energy.”

Orli Shaham is one of the soloists, along with Marc-Andre Hamelin, for John Adams’ Grand Pianola Music this weekend at the LA Phil. Adams himself conducts and the program also includes a big world premiere of the Symphony No. 12 by Philip Glass. For more information, visit LAPhil.com.

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