At a concert several years ago now, in a different city, one patron was overheard complaining, “I don’t know who this John Adams is. And why did they put the contemporary piece on the second half, when everyone will leave?”
That gentleman stuck around for the contemporary music, and as he filed out proclaimed “That was the greatest concert I’ve ever heard in my life!”
Adams’ great symphony Harmonielehre had left that impression, as it does for many listeners. Full of immense energy and power, deep emotion, it established Adams not only as a major composer but as the successor to Aaron Copland as the public face of American classical music.
Alan Gilbert leads the New York Philharmonic in Harmonielehre on a subscription program that starts Thursday, celebrating the composer’s 70th birthday. The New York Philharmonic String Quartet, made up of principal players, will be in front of the orchestra in the first half, for Adams’ 2012 Absolute Jest, his not-too-serious take on Beethoven. That piece will be new for most in the audience, but whether one has never heard Harmonielehre, or heard it a dozen times, it’s sure to leave an impression.
The New York Philharmonic plays music of John Adams 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Friday, and 8 p.m. Saturday, at David Geffen Hall. nyphil.org