Classical Music

Lebrecht Weekly | John Luther Adams: Sila, the breath of the world (cantaloupe)


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Sometimes I listen to music as a public service: just so you don’t have to. The US composer John Luther Adams has a high reputation for ecologically descriptive music of meditative extrospection. His orchestral suite Become Ocean won a 2014 Pulitzer Prize and topped the classical charts for a couple of weeks. It got to the point that the world-famous Nixon in China composer John Adams had to go around telling people he was not that Adams.

Myself, I liked his suite. It occupied a vacant space somewhere between John Cage and Greta Thunberg. It was agreeable and extremely well written for full orchestra and I looked forward to what John Luther Adams might do next.

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If this is it, I’m done. Sila, we are told, represents ‘the wind and the weather, the forces of nature’. It is scored for five ensembles of 16 musicians, ‘dispersed widely, surrounding the listeners, who are free to move around and discover their own individual listening points’. A happening, in other words. On record, it comes over as aural floss, varying in dynamics but without much flavour or detectable points of interest. It has no formal beginning or end. Eternity, beside this, will seem short.

If I want wind and weather I shall open a window. If I want music, I’ll give John Luther Adams a miss.

There is another worrying thing here. Four fashionable composers – Michael Gordon, David Lang, Kenny Savelson and Julia Wolfe – are listed on the record as executive producers. This looks like a conspiracy of contemporary American composers against the listening public.

NL

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