Composer Samuel Adams has a blind spot for the most beloved age of violin music — the romanticism of Mendelssohn, Paganini and Tchaikovsky.
On Thursday, the Berkeley Symphony presents the world premiere of Adams’ first Violin Concerto, a four-movement response to the tradition of violin concertos by J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky and Ligeti — a clear omission of the popular romantic warhorses of violin literature.
“I tend to skip a hundred years or so,” says the Berkeley native. “I was trained in composition to be very skeptical of the past, of expression, romanticism and old forms. As soon as I began sketching, however, I realized that certain tropes would be seen as traditional.”
In his work, he reconsiders emotional profiles and tenets of the art form: expositions, cadenzas, recapitulations and resolutions take new meanings and play different roles.
For Adams, 28, a Stanford alumnus, the search for a unique voice has been gradual, with influences from jazz’s Cecil Taylor, Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock as well as the classical world.
“I found myself between this split,” he says. “On the one hand, in this hyper-rigid, almost scientific way of thinking about sound at Stanford, and then going out, and playing three hours of bass at a bar in downtown San Francisco. This compelled me to search for a musical voice that would mitigate those two things.”
The compulsion has led to commissions from Carnegie Hall, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, and for the New York Times to call him “a composer with a personal voice and keen imagination.”
Renowned British violinist Anthony Marwood, who was selected by Adams to perform the premiere, says, “The process of learning a wonderful new concerto is a fascinating one; we inhabit the composer’s mind while making up our own, but the most intense chapter is always hearing the orchestration live for the first time.”
In addition to Adams’ commission, Thursday’s program features Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella Suite” and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, “Scottish,” in A minor, conducted by music director Joana Carneiro.
Adams, the son of Pultizer Prize-winning composer John Adams, describes the moment his father recognized the extent of his blossoming talent.
“He knew that I was creative, that music really affected me as a child,” he says. “But it wasn’t until I was a senior in college, when I wrote my first piece for orchestra, that I think I really surprised him. I think that affected him quite deeply.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Zellerbach Hall, near Bancroft Way and Dana Street, UC Berkeley campus, Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $15 to $74