“Whenever serious art loses track of its roots in the vernacular,” John Adams once wrote, “then it begins to atrophy.”
Adams has explored the widest range of music, though he is known to the public chiefly through a series of brilliant and frequently controversial stage works, from the early Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer to Doctor Atomic (produced by the Curtis Opera Theatre last season) and the recent Gospel According to the Other Mary. Orchestra audiences know him through several thorny concertos and showy, often fun-spirited symphonic works, including the Chairman Dances (drawn from Nixon in China) and the work heard today.
Short Ride in a Fast Machine was written on commission from the Pittsburgh Symphony for the opening of Great Woods in Mansfield, Mass., and first performed on in June 1986 with Michael Tilson Thomas leading the Pittsburgh ensemble. It is an exhilarating five-minute fanfare in which orchestral colors shimmer and intermingle in a fabric of austere motifs and potent musical ideas.