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Composed: 1982

Length: c. 30 minutes

Orchestration: 2 flutes (= piccolos), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (2 = bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 2 horns,
2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, percussion (glockenspiel, crotales, marimba, suspended cymbal, maracas, woodblock, 2 triangles, tan-tam, xylophone, tambourine, bass drum, small pedal bass drum, crash cymbals, 5 tenor drums), 3 female voices, 2 amplified pianos

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: July 22, 2004, Ilan Volkov conducting, with pianists Joanne Pearce Martin and Gloria Cheng, and vocalists Nell Snaidas, Catherine Webster, and Kimberly Grantland James

About this Piece

“The piece could only have been conceived by someone who had grown up surrounded by the detritus of mid-20th century recorded music. Beethoven and Rachmaninoff soak in the same warm bath with Liberace, Wagner, the Supremes, Charles Ives, and John Philip Sousa.” This is how composer John Adams describes his Grand Pianola Music, and that goes a long way to describing this extravagant, tonal work, especially its over-the-top final movement. There are officially only two movements, but the first one has both a fast and a slow section, so in essence there are three movements altogether. When Adams goes on to describe the final section as a “bombastic finale…with its flag-waving, gaudy tune rocking back and forth between the pianos amid ever-increasing cascades of B-flat major arpeggios,” he is not kidding. There are, at minimum, two ways to enjoy this piece. The first is as a witness to one of the great crescendo creators of our time; Adams has a remarkable knack for building tension over a long span, using every trick in his playbook. The other way is to give in to the spirit of fun in which it was clearly written. Don’t be surprised if you’re humming that “gaudy tune” long after it’s over.