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La Luna Azul

Big night at ASO with Andre Watts and world premiere

Thursday night’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concert featured two biggies: the world premiere of Adam Schoenberg’s “La Luna Azul” and an appearance by beloved pianist Andre Watts. The 31 year-old Schoenberg, who lives in Los Angeles, is a member of the “Atlanta School” of composers chosen by ASO’s music director Robert Spano for commissions and performances.

“Accessibility” is the feature most shared by this group and there were passages in “La Luna Azul” that would fit easily into a movie score, a genre Schoenberg said he admires and in which he has begun to work. But the work rarely panders.
Schoenberg said that his music “always tells a story. It’s like song without words.” Here, the story is a “universal love song between the moon and the sun.”

The short work (14 minutes) opens with a gentle, moody tone poem, inspired originally by a piano trio he’d written to his wife. Harmonic progressions from this section carry over to form the basis of the work’s second, “groovy” section. Here, Schoenberg shows his great strength, which is his mesmerizing way of painting colors. The music is “American,” with influences from Aaron Copland, Philip Glass and Hollywood, but it is expanded into Technicolor by Schoenberg’s orchestration, which brings every part of the giant orchestra into play, especially the percussion section.

The work ends in a reflective peaceful section. Spano loves his composers and this one got a performance from the orchestra that was both polished and electric.

James L. Paulk, Atlanta Constitution Journal
Published: March 2, 2012


ASO review: A satisfying evening with Adam Schoenberg premiere, Grieg and Nielsen

Thursday night’s subscription concert by Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra offered up a world premiere, a beloved piano concerto and a nonconformist symphony from the early 20th century.

The program led off with the premiere of “La Luna Azul” (“Blue Moon”), a 14-minute work by Adam Schoenberg, commissioned by Spano himself. This musical essay was inspired by the true-life “love at first sight” relationship between Schoenberg and his wife, playwright and screenwriter Janine Salinas. The two met and hit it off in 2010 while at the MacDowell Colony artists’ retreat in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

The relationship also has inspired a previous work, Schoenberg’s Piano Trio, from which he drew material for “La Luna Azul.” “I had always felt it as a symphonic piece,” the composer said of the trio in an interview with ArtsATL.

The piece starts out quietly with an evocative, slow section, with long drones and a placid melody. Blossoming phrases emerge, with rubato-sounding interjections from instruments here and there. The interjections become more rhythmic, increasing in prominence and tartness against the lush primary texture, then calming again.

At about six-and-a-half minutes in, the piece takes a turn and launches into a joyful, somewhat John Adams-like faster section of bouncy rhythms and shifting meters. Then low brass take the helm with a repeated sequence of chords, over which builds an Afro-Cuban-influenced percussive groove and more jaunty wind figures. The low brass figure is handed off to the strings in a pulsating ground beat, over which a blazing, syncopated trumpet line arches. The low brass return, with the pulsating strings briefly coming back to spar with them under persistently active woodwinds above.

The final chords of the low brass give way to a wonderfully relaxed, gently rocking conclusion in 5/8 meter, slowly fading to a final sustained note in the first oboe, lightly punctuated at the end by a single pizzicato note in lower strings capped by the “ting” of a small triangle.

In the end, “La Luna Azul” deserves a descriptor not often afforded contemporary music: beautiful. The engaging, energetic second section, I found, was a lot less harried than expected based on prior description. One can hear tinges of other composers here and there, John Adams and Alberto Ginastera (more so than Aaron Copland) among them. All composers absorb influences in the process of forging their own voices, and Adam Schoenberg, who at 31 appears to have a long and substantive career ahead of him, is establishing his.

Mark Gresham, Arts Critic ATL
Published: March 3, 2012