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John Adams

Publisher: AMP

Shaker Loops (1978)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Sub Category
String Orchestra
Year Composed
arr. for string orchestra 1983
26 Minutes
Alternate Orchestration
3vn, va, 2vc, db

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Score Score

Programme Note
John Adams Shaker Loops (1978)
Galili Dance video clip on YouTube
Composer Note:

Shaker Loops began as a string quartet with the title Wavemaker. At the time, like many a young composer, I was essentially unaware of the nature of those musical materials I had chosen for my tools. Having experienced a few of the seminal pieces of American Minimalism during the early 1970's, I thought their combination of stripped-down harmonic and rhythmic discourse might be just the ticket for my own unformed yearnings. I gradually developed a scheme for composing that was partly indebted to the repetitive procedures of Minimalism and partly an outgrowth of my interest in waveforms. The "waves" of Wavemaker were to be long sequences of oscillating melodic cells that created a rippling, shimmering complex of patterns like the surface of a slightly agitated pond or lake. But my technique lagged behind my inspiration, and this rippling pond very quickly went dry. Wavemaker crashed and burned at its first performance. The need for a larger, thicker ensemble and for a more flexible, less theory-bound means of composing became very apparent.

Fortunately I had in my students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music an ensemble willing to tryout new ideas, and with the original Wavemaker scrapped I worked over the next four months to pick up the pieces and start over. I held on to the idea of the oscillating patterns and made an overall structure that could embrace much more variety and emotional range. Most importantly the quartet became a septet, thereby adding a sonic mass and the potential for more acoustical power. The "loops" idea was a technique from the era of tape music where small lengths of prerecorded tape attached end to end could repeat melodic or rhythmic figures ad infinitum. (Steve Reich's It's Gonna Rain is the paradigm of this technique.) The Shakers got into the act partly as a pun on the musical term "to shake", meaning either to make a tremolo with the bow across the string or else to trill rapidly from one note to another. The flip side of the pun was suggested by my own childhood memories of growing up not far from a defunct Shaker colony near Canterbury, New Hampshire. Although, as has since been pointed out to me, the term "Shaker" itself is derogatory, it nevertheless summons up the vision of these otherwise pious and industrious souls caught up in the ecstatic frenzy of a dance that culminated in an epiphany of physical and spiritual transcendence. This dynamic, almost electrically charged element, so out of place in the orderly mechanistic universe of Minimalism, gave the music its raison d'etre and ultimately led to the full realization of the piece. Shaker Loops continues to be one of my most performed pieces. There are partisans who favor the clarity and individualism of the solo septet version, and there are those who prefer the orchestral version for its added density and power. The piece has several times been choreographed and even enjoyed a moment of cult status in the movie Barfly, an autobiographical account of the poet Charles Bukowsky's down and out days on LA's Skid Row. In a famous scene Bukowsky (Mickey Rourke), having been battered and bloodied by his drunken girlfriend (Faye Dunaway) holes up in a flophouse room, writing poems in a fit of inspiration to the accompaniment of the insistent buzz of "Shaking and Trembling".

— John Adams

  • Ensemble
    The London Chamber Orchestra
    Christopher Warren-Green
  • Ensemble
    Orchestra of St. Luke's
    John Adams
  • Ensemble
    Ridge String Quartet
    Gary Lowendusky (Double Bass), Judiyaba (Cello), Dan Smiley (Violin)
    New Albion:
  • Ensemble
    Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
    Marin Alsop
  • Ensemble
    Lucerne Festival Strings
    Achim Fiedler
  • Ensemble
    London Chamber Orchestra
    Christopher Warren-Green
    Virgin Classics:
  • Ensemble
    Orchestra of St. Luke's
    John Adams
    Nonesuch :
  • G. Schirmer / AMP:
  • Ensemble
    Ensemble Modern
    Sian Edwards
    Rca Victor Red Seal:
  • Ensemble
    London Chamber Orchestra
    Christopher Warren-Green
    Emi Classics:
  • Ensemble
    London Chamber Orchestra
    Christopher Warren-Green
    Virgin Classics:
  • Ensemble
    La Pietà
    Angèle Dubeau
  • Ensemble
    London Chamber Orchestra
    Christopher Warren-Green
    Emi Classics:
  • Nonesuch:
  • Ensemble
    Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
    Nathan Gunn, Baritone
  • Ensemble
    Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
  • Ensemble
    Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
    Marin Alsop
  • Ensemble
    San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
    Edo de Waart
  • 23 NOV 2019
    Ordway Concert Hall, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Saint Paul, MN
    Pekka Kuusisto, violin

    Other Dates:
    24,25 November - Ordway Concert Hall, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Saint Paul, MN
  • 15 SEP 2019
    New World Center, Miami Beach, FL
    New World Symphony
    Eric Jacobsen, conductor
  • 10 FEB 2019
    Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London, UK
    Covent Garden Sinfonia
    Ben Palmer, conductor
  • 10 OCT 2018
    Walk Festival Hall, Teton Village, WY
    Grand Teton Music Festival
  • 19 SEP 2018
    Lammermuir Festival 2018
    Theatre, Loretto School, Musselburgh, UK
    Red Note Ensemble and Red Note Academy
    Simon Proust, conductor
  • 19 SEP 2018
    Loretto School, Musselburgh, Scotland, UK
    Red Note Ensemble
    Simon Proust, conductor
  • 13 SEP 2018
    Basel, Switzerland
    Kammerorchester Basel
    Knabenkantorei Basel, choir; Jérémie Rhorer, conductor
  • 28 JUL 2018
    St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, Brooklyn, NY
    The String Orchestra of Brooklyn
    Adam Tendler; Eli Spindel, conductor
  • 03 JUL 2018
    Manitoba Museum, Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada
    Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
    Julian Pellicano, conductor
  • 27 JUN 2018
    Greek orthodox church of the annunciation, Quebec City, Canada
    Les Escapades Musicales de la Cité
    Blair Lofgren, conductor
  • 22 JUN 2018
    Art Museum, Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, VA
    Virginia Symphony Orchestra
  • 03 JUN 2018
    Church of the Holy Cross, Shreveport, LA
    Shreveport Summer Music Festival Orchestra
    Kermit Poling, conductor
  • 31 MAY 2018
    Concert Hall, Ellensburg, WA
    Central Washington University Symphony Orchestra
    Aaron Hirsch, conductor
  • 24 MAY 2018
    Dortmund, Germany
    MCO Academy Sinfonietta
    Matthew Truscott, conductor
  • 20 MAY 2018
    Wells Cathedral School, Somerset, UK
    Wells String Orchestra
  • 05 APR 2018
    Wilson Concert Hall, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
    Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra
    Gemma New, conductor
  • 03 APR 2018
    Woolsey Hall, New Haven, CT
    New Haven Symphony Orchestra
    Performing select mvts only; Childrens Educational Concerts; William Boughton, conductor

    Other Dates:
    4 April - Hyde Cultural Center, Woodstock, CT
    5 April - Parsons Art Center, Milford, CT
    6 April - Seymour Middle School, Seymour, CT
  • 11 MAR 2018
    Auditorio de la Diputación de Alicante, Spain
    Orquesta de Cadaqués
    D. Josep Vicent, conductor

    Other Dates:
    12 March - CNDM del Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain
    13 March - Fundación BBVA, Bilbao, Spain
  • 18 FEB 2018
    Konzerthalle Frankfurt/Oder, Germany
    Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt
    Steffen Tast, conductor
  • 10 FEB 2018
    Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, San Antonio, TX
    Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio
    Gemma New, conductor
  • 19 JAN 2018
    St Alfege, Greenwich, London, UK
    St Paul's Sinfonia
    Andrew Morley, conductor
  • 30 NOV 2017
    Patricia Corbett Theater, Cincinnati, OH
    University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music
    Alexander Black, conductor

    Other Dates:
    1-3 December - Patricia Corbett Theater, Cincinnati, OH
  • 17 NOV 2017
    Blackheath Halls, London
    Trinity Laban String Ensemble
    Nic Pendlebury, conductor
  • 12 NOV 2017
    Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Scotland, UK
    Royal Scottish National Orchestra
  • 10 NOV 2017
    Ed Landreth Audtiorium, TCU Campus, Fort Worth, TX
    TCU School for Classical & Contemporary Dance

    Other Dates:
    11,12 November - Ed Landreth Audtiorium, TCU Campus, Fort Worth, TX
  • 07 OCT 2017
    Tramshead Tech, Cardiff, UK
    Sinfonia Cymru
  • 06 OCT 2017
    Katzin Concert Hall, Tempe, AZ
    Arizona State University
    David Russell; Jeffery Meyer, conductor
  • 28 SEP 2017
    Fickling Hall, McCorkle Music Building, Macon, GA
    McDuffie Center for Strings
    Ward Stare, conductor
  • 26 SEP 2017
    Queen's Hall, Edinburgh
    Scottish Chamber Orchestra

    Other Dates:
    27 September - Eden Court Theatre, Inverness
  • 14 SEP 2017
    Roman River Music Festival
    Colchester, UK
    Roman River Music Festival Orchestra

[John Adams's] Shaker Loops is a minimalist quartet that became a septet, then a piece for full strings. Edwards and Ensemble Modern's particularly good recording combines clarity and individualism with density and power, [in] its rapturous lyricism (middle movements) and high-octane energy (outer movements). Kretzschmar drives [the] rhythmically propulsive Phrygian Gates [in] its restless shifting of colour and pulse. This beautifully recorded CD is strongly recommended.
Rob Cowen, Gramophone,01/01/0001
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