Seattle Symphony, led by music director Ludovic Morlot, made a splash last week at New York’s Carnegie Hall with a performance of “Become Ocean” — a piece the orchestra commissioned from Alaska composer John Luther Adams, which recently won a Pulitzer Prize.
New York music critics hailed “Become Ocean” as a major new composition and also, generally, praised the orchestra’s performance. Here are excerpts from reviews of the May 6 program, which also featured works by Claude Debussy and Edgard Varèse.
“The audience at Carnegie Hall seemed very ready to become ocean with Mr. Adams, who, amazing as it seems, was attending his first concert at Carnegie Hall. The performance Mr. Morlot coaxed from his players was rich with shimmering colors and tremulous energy. The engagement of the musicians with this work, and with Mr. Morlot, came through in every moment.” — Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times
“[Adams] has produced a kind of tidal music that I have never heard before [ ...] In a sense, very little happens over the course of the score’s 40-minute span, which rests on a symmetrical structure, a giant palindrome. Time slows, the pulse liquefies and the disoriented ear begins to drift. Yet the music feels simultaneously slow and hurtling, like a backward, sped-up film of continents emerging from primordial waters.” — Justin Davidson, Vulture
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“While the Seattle Symphony is a fine orchestra, they just did not have the sonic weight to fully realize Debussy’s ‘La Mer.’ As multidimensional as they were in ‘Become Ocean,’ the ensemble sounded surprisingly thin and light while playing the Debussy, the orchestral blend and grand climaxes two-dimensional. Perhaps the cause was nerves: The opening phrases sounded stiff, while in contrast the encore — ‘Fêtes’ from Nocturnes — was relaxed, expressive and totally satisfying.” — George Grella, New York Classical Review
“The orchestra on duty [ ... ] was the Seattle Symphony, founded in 1903 and currently led by a remarkably energetic and authoritative music director from France, Ludovic Morlot. [ ... It] was a wonderful concert, imaginatively planned and brilliantly executed. Although the ambience may have been folksy casual, the repertory and performances reflected rare sophistication.” —Martin Bernheimer, The Financial Times
Lynn Jacobson, Seattle Times features editor