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John Adams's "Absolute Jest" to Premiere in San Francisco Symphony's Month-Long American Mavericks Festival, US Tour

John Adams 2009 color w/scores
As part of their 2011-12 Centennial Season, Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) and the San Francisco Symphony launch a month-long American Mavericks Festival of music by pioneers of the American sound. The Festival begins at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall tonight, with performances there through March 18, followed by a national tour to Chicago's Orchestra Hall, Ann Arbor's Hill Auditorium, and Carnegie Hall in New York through March 30. The American Mavericks Festival explores the music of path-breaking composers like Steve Reich and builds on their visionary spirit with world-premiere SFS commissions, including a new work by John Adams.

The St. Lawrence String Quartet joins MTT and the San Francisco Symphony for the world premiere performance of John Adams's Absolute Jest, a SFS and Carnegie Hall co-commission written for the Orchestra's Centennial season, at Davies Symphony Hall next Thursday, March 15, with encore performances that Friday and Saturday. Also on the program are works by Morton Feldman and Varèse, as well as Mass Transmission, a new piece by Mason Bates, Adams's fellow Bay Area composer. Absolute Jest is based on fragments of scherzos from Beethoven’s String Quartets.

"The inspiration for Absolute Jest was a local one," Adams says. "It came from our own MTT, and his performance of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. In this piece I heard how one composer could take material and the vitality of another composer and weave it into his own musical style and musical language … I have always been a fan of the late Beethoven string quartets. I took fragments of these scherzos and wove them together into what I think will probably be the world’s longest scherzo—a 25-minute-long high-energy scherzo." Watch Adams discuss the piece further here:

On the afternoon of Saturday, March 17, Davies Symphony Hall will host an American Orchestra Forum, part of a season-long, nationwide dialogue on the 21st century American orchestra. Among the afternoon's sessions is a conversation with Bates and Adams moderated by Mark Clague, Professor of Music from the University of Michigan. The Forum will examine how orchestras balance tradition and innovation, how the changing technology has shaped how artists think about music, how classically trained musicians and composers straddle genres, and what some of the unique contributions of the Bay Area to musical creativity have been. This event is free to the public but registration at is recommended. It will stream live starting at 1:30 PM PT via San Francisco Classical Voice at

The following day, Sunday, March 18, the festival's final night at Davies Symphony Hall, members of the San Francisco Symphony led by MTT will perform Steve Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood on a program of chamber music that also includes the world premiere of Meredith Monk's Realm Variations, a new SFS-commissioned work, performed by Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble with musicians of the SFS.


After the San Francisco run, Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet will head to Chicago to perform Adams's Absolute Jest as part of a one-night-only American Mavericks concert at Orchestra Hall on Wednesday, March 21.


From there, the musicians will go to Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then to Carnegie Hall in New York to present the American Mavericks Festival in its entirety. John Adams's Absolute Jest will be performed in Hill Auditorium on Friday, March 23, and in Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium on Tuesday, March 27. The program featuring Steve Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood will be performed in Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall later that week, on Friday, March 30.

On Monday, March 26, at 7 PM ET, MTT, Adams, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet will gather at The Greene Space, the performance venue of New York classical music station WQXR, for an evening of music and conversation hosted by WQXR’s David Garland and Q2 Music's Nadia Sirota. The event will be webcast live on Q2 Music, WQXR's online new-music station and broadcast live on 105.9 FM in New York, with live video streaming on

Q2 Music’s month-long programming will also include pieces by American Maverick composers, interviews from the WQXR and WNYC archives with iconic Maverick, insights about the music from MTT, and curated playlists from prominent composers and musicians outside the standard Western Classical tradition, starting today at 2 PM with a list from David Byrne. For more details on what's ahead at Q2, click here.

Carnegie Hall will also present a number of related events in the Hall and around New York City as part of the American Maverick Festival, including a free concert from Alarm Will Sound at the Abrons Arts Center in lower Manhattan on March 18, 2012, as part of the Carnegie Hall Neighborhood Concert program. For details on this and all of the American Mavericks events presented by Carnegie Hall, go to


For more on all of this month's American Mavericks events, head to


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