In the midst of all this Medulla hoopla, I completely forgot that Nonesuch released John Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls today as well. "Transmigration" is Adams's Pulitzer-winning commission from the New York Philharmonic to commemorate those who died on 9/11 -- a >20-minute work for orchestra, choruses (adult & children together) and a taped surround soundtrack created by Mark Grey. The texts are tiny excerpts of very personal remembrances from relatives and friends, pulled primarily from the missing persons signs that were posted in the aftermath:
What I discovered about the language of these messages was that it was invariably of the most simple and direct kind. No one stunned by the shock of a sudden loss like this has time nor inclination to speak or write with eloquent or flowerly language. Rather one speaks in the plainest words imaginable.
The NY Phil and Andante did an interview with John, who writes and speaks so eloquently and insightfully about music and its intersections with life that I sometimes come away amazed at how deaf to the world I am.
My desire in writing this piece is to achieve in musical terms the same sort of feeling one gets upon entering one of those old, majestic cathedrals in France or Italy. When you walk into the Chartres Cathedral, for example, you experience an immediate sense of something otherworldly. You feel you are in the presence of many souls, generations upon generations of them, and you sense their collected energy as if they were all congregated or clustered in that one spot. And even though you might be with a group of people, or the cathedral itself filled with other churchgoers or tourists, you feel very much alone with your thoughts and you find them focussed in a most extraordinary and spiritual way. I want to avoid words like "requiem" or "memorial" when describing this piece because they too easily suggest conventions that this piece doesn’t share. If pressed, I’d probably call the piece a "memory space". It’s a place where you can go and be alone with your thoughts and emotions. ... "Transmigration" means "the movement from one place to another" or "the transition from one state of being to another." It could apply to populations of people, to migrations of species, to changes of chemical composition, or to the passage of cells through a membrane. But in this case I mean it to imply the movement of the soul from one state to another. And I don't just mean the transition from living to dead, but also the change that takes place within the souls of those that stay behind, of those who suffer pain and loss and then themselves come away from that experience transformed.
I still haven't heard this piece, even though it premiered in 2002 as the NY Phil's season opener. The Pacific Chorale performed it last year in Orange County, but those concerts coincided with some performances of my own in San Francisco. As far as I can tell, no performances are scheduled for SF -- but at least we have Doctor Atomic at the SF Opera to look forward to. By the way, NPR did a story on Transmigration if you're interested.
It's been a Adamsful month if you add in the Cabrillo concert I mentioned, which featured John's Dharma at Big Sur, a concerto for electric violinist Tracy Silverman. He plays an electric six-string violin that goes down into cello range, and though he does a lot of improvisation with Terry Riley's All-Stars, this piece is completely notated. Yet he managed to make it come off as an extended 25-minute cinematic improvisation with orchestra. To hear this piece, which is so directly influenced by the California coast, in Santa Cruz was a pleasure. Terry, one of the inspirations for the work was there and seemed happy; I suspect Lou Harrison, the other major influence, would have been too.
And what post would be complete without some Björk news? The post office delivered our New Yorker today! I look forward to reading it as I head over to Berkeley on BART this evening, so that I won't need to park. I got yet ANOTHER ticket yesterday even though I was parked legally, again issued by Officer J.T. This tyrannical evildoer is out of control and must be eliminated. The challenge begins.