In his latest phase, Adams leans on unison lines that go crawling through various sections of the orchestra, defining harmony horizontally rather than vertically.Let's just savor that for a moment, shall we?
We actually have a different word for "unison lines that go crawling through various sections of the orchestra". That word is "melody". Melody is defined rather well as "a linear succession of musical tones." Wikipedia contrasts this with harmony as follows:
Harmony is often said to refer to the "vertical" aspect of music, as distinguished from melodic line, or the "horizontal" aspect.Often said, because it is true. Harmony is the musical texture considered vertically, while melody is the horizontal line of the music. In his ongoing effort to explain music without actually talking about it in any satisfactory manner, Alex Ross finally trips over himself.
And this lackwit is the most prominent music critic in North America, if not the world.
For an envoi, here is John Adams' Violin Concerto from 1993-94:
Of course, what Ross should have said is that Adams tries to avoid harmony a lot of the time in favor of unison lines and simple counterpoint. But that would have seemed rather too ordinary. Ross prefers to say things like:
The form is restless, unpredictable, yet ultimately confident in its progress. Adams attached a feminist program, highlighting the misogyny of the Scheherazade legend; the protagonist holds her own against dogmatic thrashings of the orchestra, and steals away in a mood of melancholy rapture.Whatever the hell that means... I mean, I sort of understand what "thrashings" in the orchestra might be, but how to make them "dogmatic" is, I believe, entirely beyond the powers of music.