chairmanMinimalism with orchestration. The Chairman Dances was the first piece that made me realize that minimalist techniques could be utilized in large scale orchestral works as well as for the typical “new music ensembles” of mostly tuned percussion used by Steve Reich and others. This 13 minute “Foxtrot for Orchestra” takes full advantage of traditional orchestral techniques and uses rich romantic harmonies.  It was written two years in advance of the opera Nixon in China but was loosely based on the scenario in Act III, where Madame Mao (a former movie actress), disrupts a staid and formal state occasion by inviting Chairman Mao (who is present only in the form of a large portrait high up on the wall), to “come down, old man and dance.”  

Adams has said that he realized after it was written that it would not fit into the opera. “It was a parody of what I imagined Chinese movie music of the ’30s sounded like. …[a] vast fantasy of a slightly ridiculous but irresistible image of a youthful Mao Tse Tung dancing the foxtrot with his mistress Chiang Ch’ing, former movie queen.” It’s in A-B-A form with pulsing minimalist rhythms most evident in the outer parts and slinky, foxtrot melodies coming to the fore in the slower middle section.  The piece ends self-referentially by depicting the gramophone player winding down.