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Adams: The Chairman Dances

Can you guess this piece? Here’s a hint: 20th century history with a jazzy twist

John Adams scored his first big operatic “hit” in 1985 with Nixon in China. The piece was immediately a huge success for the young composer and, along with Phillip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach, is considered one of the cornerstones of American minimalist music. The opera focuses on President Nixon’s landmark visit to China in 1972 and pays particular attention to the complex relationships between the political leaders involved. At the beginning of Act 3, the characters begin dancing a foxtrot as they look back on their individual pasts. Adams later took elements of this dance and created an extended symphonic work, The Chairman Dances. The piece is meant to depict Madame Mao gatecrashing a presidential banquet, hanging paper lanterns, and performing a seductive dance. Chairman Mao descends from his portrait, and the two dance a foxtrot, back in time together.

Music Heard On This Episode

John Adams: The Chairman Dances
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Sir Simon Rattle, cond. — John Adams: Harmonielehre, The Chairman Dances, Tromba lontana, Short Ride in a Fast Machine (EMI Classics, 1994)
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album cover
John Adams: The Chairman Dances
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Sir Simon Rattle, cond. — John Adams: Harmonielehre, The Chairman Dances, Tromba lontana, Short Ride in a Fast Machine (EMI Classics, 1994)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

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