Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? is a new work for piano and orchestra by American composer John Adams. The piece continues Adam’s provocative exploration of the piano – following his seminal works Grand Pianola Music (1983) and Hallelujah Junction (2001).
Composed by Adams for pianist Yuja Wang and commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the work received its world premiere at Walt Disney Concert Hall in March 2019. The orchestra, Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel and Yuja Wang returned to the iconic venue in November 2019 to produce a live recording of the work – now released by Deutsche Grammophon. Also included on the release is another work by John Adams, the minimalist piano work China Gates (1977), performed by Yuja Wang.
As is always true of Adams’ music, an initial thread of inspiration – in this case the phrase that became the work’s title – is woven together with myriad musical influences, including composers Liszt and Ligeti, funk, rock, and gospel music. The work’s opening movement is marked “Gritty, Funky”, while the third and final section is marked “Obsession/Swing”. Musical America stated that the concerto “bristles with a percussive, highly rhythmic, technically fearsome piano part … [and is] an excitable, satisfying, boisterous vehicle for Wang and Dudamel”.
Adams’ ability to deconstruct aesthetic clichés and bridge the gaps between different forms of music has earned him worldwide recognition. In 2019 he became the first American composer to be awarded the prestigious Erasmus Prize for his contribution to contemporary classical music.
Piano soloist Yuja Wang effortlessly masters the intricate and at times exceptionally difficult piano writing, successfully weaving lightness and elegance together with dynamism and explosiveness. The Washington Post lauded her playing at the work’s premiere, noting that she was “as impressive for her poetic sensibilities as for her pyrotechnic dazzle”.
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