It’s been said about the music of John Adams – that he “maps fragments of romantic harmony onto the electric grid of minimalism.” Or he’s “Sibelius superimposed on a Eurorock rhythm track.” Take your pick. There is a strong line back to the past, particularly to the French impressionists, but an equally direct connection to today. John Adams is the essence of America today, and that includes his piano concerto “Century Rolls.”

Commissioned by the co-host of this series, Emanuel Ax, John Adams got the idea for this concerto after listening to a CD of piano rolls from the 1920s late one evening. He stopped concentrating on the music itself and focused on the sound. In doing so, he realized that all piano roll music had a "bright, edgy quality and a rhythmic alertness" regardless if you were listening to music composed by Jelly Roll Morton or Rachmaninov. This gave Adams a framework for the piece that he thought of as a piano and orchestra inside the cogs and wheels of a grand rhythmic machine. The music itself references aspects of 20th century piano music from classical to popular works and experimental composer Conlon Nancarrow’s hand-punched piano rolls.

John Adams - Century Rolls

Emanuel Ax/The Cleveland Orchestra/Christoph von Dohnanyi
Nonesuch 79607-2