Chamber music presenter Emerald City Music will launch its second season with the world premiere of a work inspired by Adams’ time in the desert; it’s a co-commission with partners in New York, Los Angeles, Orange County and Portland.
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.
Season two’s opening program, which will take place in Seattle and Olympia this month, will unveil “there is no one, not even the wind …” by John Luther Adams. Also on the program are works by three other American composers and a beloved Dvořák classic.
“We’re so thrilled by the national support of this project,” Executive Director Andrew Goldstein said. “The Chamber Music Society [CMS] of Lincoln Center led the charge, and with support from Seattle’s 4Culture, we’re premiering the work before it tours to co-commissioning partners in New York, Los Angeles, Orange County and Portland.”
Emerald City Music
Season-opening program includes world premiere by John Luther Adams plus works by Leonard Bernstein, Steve Reich, Andrew Norman and Antonin Dvořák, 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, at 415 Westlake Ave., Seattle, and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, at The Washington Center, Olympia; tickets from $10 (206-250-5510 or emeraldcitymusic.org).
The 27-year-old Goldstein and his co-founder at Emerald City, Kristin Lee, both knew instantly that the music of Adams would ideally support their mission of bringing a fresh perspective to the region and making concerts more inclusive. Both have ties to CMS. Goldstein served as an artistic administrator for pianist Wu Han and her husband, cellist David Finckel (CMS’s co-artistic directors) before relocating to Seattle from New York, while violinist and Juilliard graduate Lee is also connected to CMS as a resident artist.
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“To have a composer of that caliber and magnitude is so special — and it’s actually the first of two JLA premieres this season,” Goldstein pointed out, referring to the big Adams orchestral commission by Seattle Symphony, “Become Desert,” which will premiere in March, with Ludovic Morlot on the podium, before the symphony takes the piece on tour to California.
The Seattle Symphony’s first collaboration with Adams was a milestone for composer and orchestra alike and one of the most successful symphonic commissions in recent years. Titled “Become Ocean” and premiered in 2013, it won a Pulitzer Prize as well as the Best Contemporary Classical Grammy Award.
“Become Desert” will be a similarly massive orchestral work, while “there is no one, not even the wind …” is scored for a chamber-size ensemble and can be seen as “a kind of miniature study of ‘Become Desert,’ after the fact,” Adams told me in a phone interview from the Tippet Rise Art Center in rural Montana, where he was preparing for an upcoming festival of his music.
“‘No one’ traverses some of the same harmonic territory, but in a shorter timespan and using some unusual instrumentation for me: flute and alto flute, piano, two percussionists and string quartet — but with double bass instead of a second violin.” This lineup and the spatial distribution of the players on the stage allow for a wider spectrum of register, with prominence given to the low end for a section depicting night.
Adams, now 64, was born in Mississippi but became closely associated with Alaska, where he spent nearly four decades. “I used to say, if I ever left the tundra, it would be for the desert.” Which is what he and his wife, Cynthia, did. They now make their home mainly in the Sonoran Desert in Mexico.
The title “there is no one, not even the wind …” is also the inscription Adams used for his new “Become Desert” score. It’s a variation on a line from a poem by Octavio Paz that, says the composer, “speaks so beautifully of the feeling one has of being in a big, open, solitary, quiet place.” The music “comes directly from my experience of the space and solitude, the stillness and light of the desert.”
Adams’ music is often deeply rooted in his sensitivity to particular landscapes. At the same time, this sense of place is never merely painterly or evocative — in a romantic, programmatic manner — but closer to, say, Olivier Messiaen’s approach to nature. Adams invites the listener to enter into contemplative states of wonder, but through compositional processes that are rigorously constructed. “I want to be so lost in the music that I disappear,” he says.
Adams’ fan base ranges widely, from new-music aficionados and followers of the visual arts to the environmentally aware. His art is more and more in demand. The Lucerne Festival in Switzerland recently presented the European premiere of “Sila,” an open-air, spatially oriented work, and in July, SFJAZZ presented a John Luther Adams Festival in the Bay Area.
“That a presenting organization not in the classical world would do that,” notes the composer, “speaks profoundly to the post-genre musical world we live in. Listeners don’t care how you classify music. They just care whether it touches them.”