MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

A Weekend at Tippet Rise

DSC01943

Jeffrey Kahane playing the “Goldberg” Variations. Credit: photo is by Emily Rund, courtesy of Tippet Rise Art Center

My report for Musical America on my recent trip to the Tippet Rise Art Center for a weekend of chamber music, sculpture, and nature has now been posted. PDF version here: Tippet Rise-pdf-07.30.18_MusicalAmerica

FISHTAIL, Montana–Lots of music festivals beckon with the prospect of a temporary retreat from the mundane. Tippet Rise Art Center takes this to a remarkable extreme, thanks to its geography. Located on a 10,260-acre working ranch in rural south-central Montana, Tippet Rise requires nothing less than a pilgrimage just to take in one of the musical weekends of this year’s summer festival season, spread over eight weeks between July and September.

Filed under: Bach, John Luther Adams, Musical America, pianists, review, travel

Becoming the Light

03302018_Become-Desert_121851-1242x830

Composer John Luther Adams with conductor Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Seattle Symphony presents the world premiere “Become Desert” March 29 and 31. (Brandon Patoc )

And what a night: Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot have given the world premiere of Become Desert by the incomparable John Luther Adams.

My review for The Seattle Times here, where I was only able to offer a few hints of how extraordinarily original, enthralling, and transformative this music is.

Filed under: Beethoven, John Luther Adams, review, Seattle Symphony

“Become Desert” from John Luther Adams

This week brings the world premiere of the new large-scale orchestral work from John Luther Adams, which Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot will perform Thursday and Saturday. My preview for The Seattle Times:

“Close your eyes and listen to the singing of the light,” exhorts Octavio Paz in “Piedra Nativa” (“Native Stone”)….

continue reading

 

Filed under: American music, John Luther Adams, Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Times

John Luther Adams World Premiere at Emerald City Music

jla

My latest Seattle Times story:

Emerald City Music is an innovative series that presents chamber music in a relaxed, intimate South Lake Union venue as well as around the region. Fresh off its inaugural season, Emerald City landed an opportunity to present a world premiere from one of today’s hottest composers.

 continue reading 

Filed under: John Luther Adams, Seattle Times

John Luther Adams in Lucerne

To open its Special Event Day on Sunday 27 August, Lucerne Festival presented the Swiss premiere of Sila: The Breath of the World by John Luther Adams. I’m not able to post video of that (the video above is from the Lincoln Center premiere three years ago at Hearst Plaza), but I can report that the “JLA effect” was in full sway: the audience, some there by design, some caught by surprise and curiosity, fell under the spell of this aural mystery unfolding for nearly an hour at the Europaplatz, just between the sleek, modernist KKL concert complex and Lake Lucerne.

And today I just learned that the wonderful music writer and critic Bernd Feuchtner devised a program for the first-ever German performance of Become Ocean last year at the Badisches Staatstheater in Karlsruhe, pairing JLA with Alberto Ginastera’s Popol Vuh.

Back in Seattle on 15 September, Emerald City Music will present the world premiere of JLA’s there is no one, not even the wind … Spring will meanwhile bring his latest major orchestral work, Become Desert, to be unveiled by Seattle Symphony.

More on that soon …

Filed under: John Luther Adams, Lucerne Festival

Let There Be Light

Filed under: John Luther Adams

Music for a While: Beguiled by Beethoven and John Luther Adams in Los Angeles

john_luther_adams

In the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, music presenters struggled to readjust programmes so that they could provide an appropriately solemn response. For some this seemed the only justification to enjoy music at all in the face of nightmarish reality.

But the act of making music with care and conviction is itself life-affirming and humanity-empowering, as Leonard Bernstein knew when he famously declared: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before”.

continue reading

Filed under: Beethoven, John Luther Adams, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Ludovic Morlot, review

John Luther Adams at the Miller Theatre

Last night Columbia University’s Miller Theatre presented the opening of its John Luther Adams concert trilogy celebrating JLA as this year’s Schuman Award winner.

Together these three concerts are presenting JLA’s trilogy of large-scale memorials to his parents and to his musical parent (Lou Harrison). Last night Steven Schick conducted ICE in a luminous performance of Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing: music you wish would never have to come to an end.

Especially notable was the sustained realization of the sheer sensuousness of JLA’s voicings, so deftly counterbalanced with the abstract structure of the piece.

Here’s the essay I wrote for these programs:

Extraordinary Listening: A John Luther Adams Trilogy

“Music is not what I do. Music is how I live. It’s not how I express myself. It’s how I understand the world.”
—John Luther Adams

One among many moments of dazzling clarity in the writings and reflections of John Luther Adams, this artistic credo points to a composer deeply rooted in the American maverick tradition of figures like Lou Harrison, John Cage, and Morton Feldman: figures who have operated outside the business-as-usual conventions of making and thinking about music.

continue reading

Filed under: John Luther Adams, new music essay

Inuksuit Live

Evidence of human presence

Evidence of human presence

Yesterday afternoon Seattle’s Seward Park resonated with the sounds made by nearly a dozen-and-a-half percussionists, along with the contributions of nature, of everyday life in a human-inhabited environment, and of the spectator-participants.

On offer was John Luther Adams’s Inuksuit, a remarkable piece conceived for performance outdoors by an indeterminate collective of percussionists (anywhere from “9 to 99” players). Inuksuit had its West Coast premiere at the Ojai Festival in 2012, and percussionist and educator Melanie Voytovich organized this Seattle presentation.

The timing and location couldn’t have worked out better: hints of the coming fall tinged the mid-afternoon mood — the Autumnal Equinox just around the corner — while a changeable sky opted for outlooks from gloomy cloudcover to full-on sunbursts.

As Melanie points out, the word “inuksuit” (which is plural) connotes “a type of stone landmark used by native peoples of the Arctic region”; more generally, it can be a proxy or evidence of a human who has been present in a space.

Bernd Herzogenrath, a versatile author focused on American studies, observes that Inuksuit “enables listeners and performers to experience a place more fully, while subtly presenting a narrative of life on Earth.”

That’s one aspect I valued especially from yesterday’s performance: the sense that both the “audience” and the performers were absorbed in the same task, seeking a more intense experience together, without division or boundary between the two.

Inuksuit-whirling

Almost reflexively, I initially settled down into position when I realized Inuksuit had actually begun. It was a moment of interesting awkwardness, as I’d been chatting with some friends as people kept on arriving, and we noticed a change of aura — but the piece commences so quietly that you need to have visual cues to notice it’s started. You suddenly become aware of a kind of subliminal wie ein Naturlaut of gentle blowing sounds — JLA out-Mahlering Mahler — which then turn more ceremonial, ritualistic.

That being-caught-short prompted my anxiety about maintaining proper “audience behavior” and made me instantly shut up and stay put. But as the work continued, I felt urged to explore it as much as possible from “inside” by getting up and wandering multiple times around the space, as if joining actors onstage for a play in progress.

It was wonderful: the shifting angles and perspectives — visual and aural — made it all the clearer that there simply is no way to take it all in, to gain a complete perception of what’s happening. And that, along with the John Cagean chance elements of any given performance, is inherent in the beauty of JLA’s conception of this work.

Much of the fascination emerges from such interactions: from seeing other listeners, active audience or chance passersby, as they take note of some gesture or shift in the sound source, in its level of intensity or texture. The unfeigned delight of small children was infectious to watch, and even the attending animals seemed mesmerized:

Inuksuit-dogs

Usually when I’m attending an outdoor performance the ambient sounds are either a pleasant decoration or, in the case of manmade ones like a flight path overhead, disturbing annoyances that I pretend I’m not hearing in an effort to refuse them entry into the experience. But on this occasion I welcomed all that: I wanted these noises to break whatever vestigial fourth wall was there, to bleed their own music to this sound installation.

My friend Roger Downey remarked that the experience, quite unexpectedly, was like “chamber music” compared to listening to the recording of Inuksuit.

In his preview, Roger points out that “it’s genuinely revolutionary work, representing a new way of playing and listening outside the traditional Western box.”

When I noticed one of the players in a distant corner switch to a siren, I couldn’t help thinking of its difference from the riotous and menacing note the sirens introduce into Varèse’s Amériques, for all their manic humor. Here the effect was almost of a subtle brushstroke.

The inclusiveness of Inuksuit is all. Its random elements gather together across the performance space over the piece’s duration, just as JLA has the players (who were sporting black T-shirts) in-gather in the final minutes, slowly approaching toward the center. This somehow all results in a sense of purpose that is fueled by the energy of everyone present. The music fades back out into inaudibility but has left behind its own evidence.

–(C)2015 Thomas May. All rights reserved.

Filed under: John Luther Adams, new music, review

Inuksuit in Seattle

It’s happening on Saturday: at 2 pm in Seward Park.

From Roger Downey’s excellent preview:

It’s hard to convey the effect of Inuksuit in performance, particularly if you haven’t heard it live. And I haven’t: My closest encounter so far is listening to it twice on headphones, in a version recorded live in New England in 2013. Phones turn the piece inside out. Instead of surging in from all sides, the thunder of the called-for “nine to 99 percussionists” in full cry is focused in the center of your skull. It’s an incredible ride, but it leaves you completely unable to describe how the piece is going to sound outdoors, amid the twitter of birds and blat of distant motorbikes….

No two performances of Inuksuit can be the same, and no two listeners can hear it the same way. Your experience will differ, whether you like it or not.

Filed under: John Luther Adams

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR