Read our review of the real world premiere of Williams' work (that happened Friday at Heinz Hall, of all places):
It's hard to imagine that John Williams' inaugural piece is still in the news! But The New York Times reported today that cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the others faked their playing of the piece because it was too cold. The quartet recorded it earlier and then played along as it was blasted through the speakers.
It seems that what was picked up by the TV microphones (set close to the musicians) actually was their playing, although I am still not clear about that. But this does explain why it was hard to hear the piano -- Gabriella Montero wasn't playing with much force.
So, now surely some pundits will want the musicians to play it again, just like President Obama did with the oath. But let's be perfectly clear here, this meant and means nothing! It was a good idea to pre-record, considering the frigid conditions. No need to stress violinist Itzhak Perlman and Ma's expensive instruments, tightening them extra hard to keep them in tune (the piano would also had trouble staying in tune; only perhaps Anthony McGill's clarinet might have made it through the conditions, seeing as how marching bands perform all the time in freezing temps), or the musicians (staying in tune would have been the focus). Classical music may be old (although not this piece, obviously), but we have technology now, so it's OK to use it when it can be helpful in certain situations!
The best quote in the Times article comes from, who else, the incomparable Ma:
“What we were there for,” he said, “was to really serve the moment.”
That they did, even if I don't love the piece. Now, can we let this all go and get back to real classical music!?
OK, I guess I will be seen as a jerk for saying this, but I just didn't like John Williams' inauguration piece, "Air and Simple Gifts," yesterday. It's great that a living American classical composer was chosen for such an important moment and it's wonderful that we could celebrate excellence in classical music through the quartet of great musicians, led by the incomparable American cellist Yo-Yo Ma (after Obama creates a Cultural Czar (!), let's just name Ma to it!). And, yes, the piece started off with some exquisite music in its introduction.
But I just felt that after that Williams wrote ostentatious variations to a theme that is meant to be, well, simple. I am sorry to say that, yes, Copland got it (in his music to the ballet "Appalachian Spring" of the '40s) and Williams did not. His became a shower of notes that lost the thrust of the message of the tune. I realize Williams is probably the most famous American "classical" composer and the safe choice due to his output, but I think others would have been better choices. No big deal, but I just had to get it off my chest. We'll have a second chance to hear it when the Pittsburgh Symphony performs the piece this weekend at Heinz Hall.