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Bay Area composer John Adams has described himself as "a minimalist who is bored with minimalism." In his early career Adams wrote music frankly derivative of Steve Reich's work, but in 1978 he shifted gears with a piece for strings called Shaker Loops: it took its lulling, meditative pulse from minimalism, but its soaring lyricism was miles from that idiom's stripped-down harmonies. With Grand Pianola Music (1982) it became clear that his minimalist techniques would be only part of a vocabulary embracing earlier styles and pop elements, from jazz to Beethoven to blues to Gregorian chant. Three years later Harmonielehre, a symphony, displayed the lush sensuality and grand gestures of romanticism; in fact, Adams's ear for late-19th-century composers like Bruckner and Franck was such that he could've become another Gustav Holst. Instead of settling for Holst's simpleminded romantic modernism, though, he's continued to pursue a reconciliation of minimalism's hypnotic repetition, romanticism's rhapsodic outbursts, and his own deconstructionist impulses: from headline operas like Nixon in China to his Violin Concerto, he's combined mesmerizing eloquence, extravagant scale, and winking playfulness with assured ease, becoming one of classical music's most reliable hit makers. Adams will be in residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in May to conduct a few of his latest pieces; this weekend's Chicago premiere of Century Rolls (1997)--a piano concerto he wrote for soloist Emanuel Ax, who will deliver it here with the CSO--serves as a sort of prelude. A tribute to the great music preserved on player-piano rolls, the concerto quotes from Nancarrow, Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, Satie, and Jelly Roll Morton. Its orchestral backdrop shimmers with steady, overlapping rhythms, and the frenzied finale's jerky riffs are deliberately funky. Bruckner's Symphony no. 6 rounds out the program; Christoph Eschenbach conducts. Friday, 1:30 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): John Adams photo by Debroah O'Grady.

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