Cabrillo came up with another winner in last night’s concert, featuring works by Matthew Cmiel, Mark Anthony Turnage, John Corigliano, and John Adams. I was particularly taken with the Turnage and Adams works. Turnage’s concerto Riffs and Refrains featured spectacular clarinet playing by Cabrillo principal Bharat Chandra.
The closing work was the west coast premiere of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic Symphony, based on music from his recent opera about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Trinity test. The Doctor Atomic opera contains some of the best musical portrayals of the science and engineering process ever written. JoAnn and I saw the opera in its San Francisco premiere, so during this concert we had to turn off that annoying voice in our heads that was going “Where did this music come from in the opera? Oh, yes, that’s right. The opera was better, wasn’t it?” If you know music and think analytically, this type of inner commentary is pretty easy to fall into. But it distracts from listening to the symphony and appreciating it as-is.
The symphony concludes with the music that we and most people who saw the opera considered the musical high-point: the first act finale with Oppenheimer singing a deeply moving setting of “Batter my heart, three person’d God”. In the symphony, Oppenheimer’s music is set for solo trumpet; it was played brilliantly by Cabrillo principal Craig Morris. The brass gets a lot of the vocal lines in this symphony; earlier on, General Leslie Groves’s music was given over to the trombones, particularly the solo trombone of Cabrillo principal Ava Ordman. As a tenor I have been selfishly disappointed that Adams’s operatic writing tends to give the best men’s music to baritones. As an ex-trumpeter, I am delighted to see Adams give some of the best music in this symphony to the solo trumpet! It was fun to meet with Cabrillo trumpeter Mark Flegg after the concert and discuss the great brass playing in the concert.