Premiered in March 2019 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and recorded later last year in November in a world premiere recording, Gustavo Dudamel and LA Philharmonic are joined by pianist Yuja Wang for this over 25-minute new composition by John Adams from 2018 that was also commissioned by the orchestra.
The work was inspired by an article with the same title about Dorothy Day in the New Yorker. Adams has noted: “That’s a good title just waiting for a piece. The phrase suggested a ‘Totentanz’, only not of the Lisztian manner, but more of a funk-invested American-style.”
The composition received wonderful reviews. The LA Times wrote: “It’s true, the ‘Devil’ is up to his old tricks. But what a devil! And what tricks!” The Washington Post agreed with Adams about his reference to a ‘Totentanz’: “This is a city piece: all steel girders and glass monoliths, pounding factory rhythms and fatally seductive temptations around every corner — very much the modern-day equivalent of a Lisztian “Totentanz” that Adams has said he was aiming to create…” The newspaper compared the work to "a Prokofiev-style piano concerto, retrofitted with minimalist rhythmic cells, bebop bursts of brass and ironic commentary from a sampled, out-of-tune, honky-tonk piano… driving syncopations and a riot of orchestral color building to a satisfying finish”.
Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? is American composer John Adams’ latest creation for piano, and continues his provocative exploration of that instrument heard in Grand Pianola Music (1983) and Hallelujah Junction (2001). Written by Adams for pianist Yuja Wang, the recording was released digitally in standard and HD version in April and is today further released as a visual streaming album in Apple Music and Tidal and as a digital audio version with Dolby Atmos® sound in Amazon Music HD. A release of a vinyl edition is scheduled for 16 October.
The New York Times further described the work as “uneasily fascinating … [a] beautifully disconcerting concerto.” As is always true of Adams’ music, an initial thread of inspiration – in this case the phrase that became the work’s title – is woven together with many others, including Liszt, Ligeti, gospel music and more: the opening is marked “Gritty, Funky”, while the third and final section is marked “Obsession/Swing.” As noted by Musical America, the concerto “bristles with a percussive, highly rhythmic, technically fearsome piano part … [and is] an excitable, satisfying, boisterous vehicle for Wang and Dudamel.”
Adams’ ability to deconstruct aesthetic clichés and bridge the gaps between different forms of music has earned him worldwide appreciation, as demonstrated last year when he became the first American composer to be awarded the prestigious Erasmus Prize for his contribution to contemporary classical music.
Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? continues his close connection with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Established almost 40 years ago, their relationship grew even stronger in 2009 when Gustavo Dudamel appointed Adams to the newly created position of Creative Chair.
Dudamel has championed the composer’s music for years, and his DG discography already includes the orchestral work City Noir, recorded at his inaugural Walt Disney Concert Hall concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary – directed by Peter Sellars and featuring an impressive team of soloists – which was recorded at the same venue four years later.
As for soloist Yuja Wang, she gives an outstanding performance, bringing “scintillating finger-work to … this high-octane recording” (Financial Times). With her electrifying technique, she effortlessly masters the intricate and at times exceptionally difficult piano writing, successfully weaving lightness and elegance together with dynamism and explosiveness – the contrasting but characteristic qualities of Adams’ music. Reviewing the premiere, The Washington Post noted that Ms. Wang was “as impressive for her poetic sensibilities as for her pyrotechnic dazzle.” The sheer brilliance of her music-making is ideally captured in the new edition with Dolby Atmos® of this vibrant recording.