Thu., Feb. 9, 7 p.m., Fri., Feb. 10, 8 p.m. and Sat., Feb. 11, 8 p.m. 2012
When the first nuclear bomb went off in New Mexico in 1945, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer remarked, in something of an understatement, “It worked.” Sixty years later, John Adams framed the event in more lucid terms. The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer created Doctor Atomic, an opera detailing the Manhattan Project and the creation of the first nuclear bomb. Trinity, as the bomb was named, is the centerpiece of the ensuing arrangement for orchestra, which opens tonight at the Nashville Symphony. Described as terrifying and emotionally complex, the arrangement includes excerpts from the opera’s overture, the Act II “panic” music and the Act I “military matters” sections, and climaxes with an instrumental aria in which the mastermind of mass destruction asserts his betrothal to the devil. Juxtaposing Adams’ work with Haydn’s similarly themed Military Symphony and Brahms’ sobering first piano concerto, the NSO’s program Dr. Atomic and Mr. Haydn illuminates Oppenheimer’s insight behind his famous quote from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” The trinity of works from the classical, romantic, and minimalist eras creates a program that grapples with large-scale devastation across generations. Impending doom at the hand of man in wartime seems to have changed little over the past two centuries, but there is beauty in the horror.