the music

As much as I appreciated yesterday's oratory, my favorite inaugural moment was perhaps the performance of "Air and Simple Gifts" by a quartet consisting of Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, clarinetist Anthony McGill, and pianist Gabriela Montero. (That instrumentation would have been perfect for Messiaen's "Quatuor pour la fin du temps," but John Williams' reworking of the Shaker song "Simple Gifts" was a far more appropriate piece.)

The clarinet's first statement of the melody (just past the two-minute mark) is simply breathtaking, and the look on Yo-Yo Ma's face is priceless! (In this clip of the performance, CNN's Wolf Blitzer mentions--during the melody, no less--that Obama became president at noon, during the performance.)

The NYT was laudatory about "Air and Simple Gifts," writing that "[b]efitting the occasion, it seemed like music of possibilities, with more to come." The New Yorker was less positive, with Russell Platt opining that Williams has "once more confirmed his place as the best second-rate composer in America." The Washington Post snarked that the music's "four high-powered classical soloists spanned a Benetton range of generational, ethnic and gender bases" and that Williams had "corseted himself in a straitjacket of what he thought he was supposed to be doing" instead of "writ[ing] what he is good at."

It's no "Appalachian Spring," but it's a nice piece...and very appropriate for the occasion.


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