John Adams – “Simon Haram and Friends” (18th January)

Simon Haram (saxophone), Duke Quartet, Martin Elliott (bass guitar), Rob Buckland (saxophone), Graham Fitkin (piano) & Alastair Gavin (keyboard)

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 18 January, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

After the sobering account of The Death of Klinghoffer, given a stupendous UK première by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Leonard Slatkin earlier in the evening, I wondered if a late-night concert was a good idea. In fact, Simon Haram had planned his hour-long programme as a soothing nightcap, slowly bringing the still-large audience down from the thought-provoking opera.

Pieces by John Adams framed a central section of other composers who may conveniently be tagged under the umbrella of Minimalism (although as was constantly voiced throughout the weekend, Adams’s relationship with it has always been at arms length): Graham Fitkin (also one of Haram’s friends), Michael Nyman and Philip Glass. All were on the reflective side, with Haram taking original vocal lines on the saxophone, starting with Pat Nixon’s aria from Adams’s Nixon in China, ’This is Prophetic’.

Fitkin’s Glass – an arrangement for saxophone of his violin piece – was similarly slow, while Michael Nyman’s If & Why was originally written for a Japanese film version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and – as Simon Haram remarked in one of his spoken introductions – had come to his notice first sung with the rich mahogany tones of mezzo-soprano Hilary Summers (who was at the concert). Both were for saxophone and keyboard – Nyman utilising the more richly hued tenor sax. The composer Glass (as opposed to Fitkin’s piece heard earlier) was represented by Façades before two excerpts from Adams’s much-maligned I was Looking at the Ceiling and then I Saw the Sky, which was misleadingly termed by its creative-team a ’rock-opera’; in fact it is a vibrant American musical. ’Consuelo’s Dream’ and ’Alone’ allowed Haram his smooth sound; indeed the only hiccough during this late night was the sudden plunge into blue light at the start of the Nyman, which should have been reserved for Façades (as a wink from Haram to the lighting man indicated).

The audience responded warmly and was treated to perhaps Ryuchi Sakamoto’s most famous music, ’Forbidden Colours’ from “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence”, which starred David Bowie and Tom Conti.

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