John Adams' Absolute Jest takes three themes from Beethoven - from the scherzo of the Ninth Symphony plus the scherzos of his Opus 131 and 135 string quartets - and puts them through the orchestral blender for 25 minutes. The first two minutes were relatively interesting though not particularly funny; the rest was full of sound and fury signifying nothing and not at all funny. Adams would do well to recall that the brevity is the soul of wit.
The best came last: Edgard Varese's Ameriques, a brilliant, brutal, and beguiling work for very large orchestra augmented by sirens. Ameriques is literally bursting with everything missing from the rest of the concert's works: intelligence, passion, soul, coherence, energy, wit, and an original but authentic voice
NIGHT THREE: March 24
The last night was by far the best night of the three.
Not that Tilson Thomas and the symphony didn't perform superbly all three nights with a tight ensemble, well-balanced colors, careful dynamics, and seemingly flawless technique. But on the previous nights the music was garbage as often as not, and no amount of technique can turn garbage into gold.