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 September 23-30, 2002
John Adams 
On the Transmigration of Souls

By Jerry Bowles
An eerie thing happened during the memorial services at Ground Zero on September 11.  At the precise moment former Mayor Rudy Giuliani began the reading of the names of all the victims, a fierce wind descended into the pit sending dust and hats flying, leaving speakers and spectators disheveled and clinging to programs and papers.  The wind continued almost unabated throughout the name-reading ceremony. 

 That near supernatural moment comes rushing back vividly at the beginning of John Adams’ "On the Transmigration of Souls,” a monumental and shattering work commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center's Great Performers series, and premiered this week in New York. 

 “On the Transmigration of Souls” is certainly not a requiem or memorial in the conventional sense. There is no musical progress from grief  to acceptance to transcendence, no comfort in the presumed hereafter.  Adams refers to the work as a “memory space,” a place where the living can go to be alone with their thoughts. 

“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,” he writes. “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 focused in a most extraordinary and spiritual way.”

Well, maybe.  But “Transmigration” is far too intense to support any notion of sanctuary or peace.  This is not music that inspires contemplation as much as a sense of growing dread and while it does focus the senses in an extraordinary way, it is likely to leave listeners more shaken then stirred.   There is a restless, unsettled quality to the relentless march of sound that offers peace to neither living nor dead.  The only musical equivalent I can think of is the sixth movement of Henze’s Ninth Symphony which is called, oddly enough, “Nighttime in the Cathedral,” a shattering 17-minute expanse of terror, in which a Nazi escapee hides in a cathedral, only to find there is no spiritual solace to be had in this "sanctuary." 

In any event, the pears are not seen as the observer wills, as Wallace Stevens informs us, meaning that composers are no more likely than other creators of abstract art to know what their work “means” to those who encounter it.  What is important is that Adams has written a difficult, painful and important musical masterpiece that is likely to live beyond the horrific events of 9/ll and remain an important artistic meditation on death and more specifically, violent, unexpected death. 


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Our writers welcome your comments on their pieces.  Send your witty bon mots to jbowles@sequenza21.com and we might even publish some of them here.  And, don't forget--if you'd like to write for Sequenza21 (understanding that we have no money to pay you), send me a note. JB

OPERA AS CHAOTIC EXPERIENCE: Francesca Zambello is the first American invited to direct at the Bolshoi Opera. Mounting Turandot on the historic stage is a different experience from doing it in the West. "Money is scarce. Ingenuity great. The other day, I suddenly realized there were no TV monitors in the wings backstage so my chorus could see the conductor while they are lying down looking at Peking's moon. Instead there were five conductors in the wings waving large flashlights. Not surprisingly, the chorus didn't sing together. What to do?" London Evening Standard 09/13/02

THE FUTURE IS ASIA: The list of woes facing classical music in North America and Europe is well-known and growing. But in Asia, Western classical music is booming. Fresh artists, and young and knowledgeable audiences suggest a vital future. London Evening Standard 09/18/02

VILAR LATE ON GIFTS: There are reports arts philanthropist Alberto Vilar has fallen behind on promised pledges to arts groups. "Because Mr. Vilar's Amerindo Technology Fund has decreased by nearly 50 percent each year for the last three years, there has been wide speculation in the arts world that he would default on several of his extravagant pledges to cultural organizations. There is uneasiness in classical music circles, for example, that Mr. Vilar may be late on payments to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Salzburg Music Festival, the Kirov Opera and Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and that he may have failed to pay for the supertitles he had installed at the Vienna State Opera." The New York Times 09/19/02

ORCHESTRA OVER INTERNET2: For the first time ever, Internet2 - which "transmits at the speed of light (and is rarely seen by the public because only scientists and universities use it)" was used to transmit a symphony orchestra concert across the country. The New World Symphony played in Miami, while composers Aaron Jay Kernis in Minnesota and John Adams in New York talked about their music "It worked like a charm." Miami Herald 09/17/02

SABOTAGE HALTS PARIS OPERA OPENING: Opening night of Handel's Giulio Cesare at Paris' Palais Garnier was sabotaged when someone planted a tape player and speakers inside the opera house that began playing scenes from the opera while the performance was underway. Eventually the performance was halted until the recording could be found and silenced. The New York Times 09/18/02

STYLE CLASH: Was the firing of Opera Australia artistic director Simone Young a matter of an artistic vision too big for the company's pocketbook? Perhaps. "The artistic leader of any company has the right to pick and choose, but it is understood that Young's perceived abrasive management style has caused rifts within the company. Whether it is this, or simply Young's refusal to compromise on her artistic vision, that has brought her down, is unknown. It is worth remembering, though, she has repeatedly said things must go her way or she would walk." The Age (Melbourne) 09/16/02

YOUNG DEFENSE: Young's defenders come to her defense: "The [OA] board has made Simone a scapegoat for internal and financial difficulties without any effort of mediation. It waited until she was working overseas. No one from the board has the nerve to face her. It's similar to how Maina Gielgud was treated at the Australian Ballet." Sydney Morning Herald 09/16/02 

ADAMS IN NEW YORK: This week, the New York Philharmonic premiered John Adams's new 9/11 commemorative work, On the Transmigration of Souls, which might be said to be a project for which the composer of such politically inspired fare as Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer is perfectly suited. David Patrick Stearns has heard it three times already: "It was shattering. Utterly. The audience reaction? A bit muted. Hard to read - aside from a few visible hankies. The gala-ish atmosphere of the occasion wasn't really apt for this premiere, given the inevitable presence of listeners who are there just to be there. On the Transmigration of Souls needs to be presented, somehow, to those who need it." Philadelphia Inquirer 09/21/02 

LISTENING TO MUSIC - JUST NOT TO CONCERTS: An American study on who listens to classical music and why offers some comfort for those who fear the artform is dying - there's a sizeable market for classical. "The bad news for symphony orchestras is that the traditional concert-hall experience is not the primary way these people relate to the art form. According to the study, people connect with classical music by listening to the radio first and foremost, followed by playing CDs in their cars and living rooms. Down the line is the attendance at live events in churches, schools and, yes, even concert  halls." Hartford Courant 09/16/02

OUT WITH THE CD: With music sales down last year for the first time since 1983, there are signs music fans are tired of the CD format. "Several similar-looking formats appear poised to replace the standard compact disc. So how to tell which is the 'best' - and, more important, which will be the last to fall?" Nando Times (Christian Science Monitor) 09/16/02

GIVING VERIZON ANOTHER CHANCE: When the Philadelphia Orchestra moved into its new home at the Kimmel Center last winter, reviews of the sound in Verizon Hall were mixed at best, abysmal at worst. The Washington Post called the hall, which was supposed to finally give the Fabulous Philadelphians a sounding board to match the orchestra's reputation, 'an acoustical Sahara.' But the orchestra's two regular beat writers say Verizon, which is billed as the most adjustable concert hall ever built, needs to be given a second listen. "It's a pretty good hall. It is not a great hall in its current form. It is continuing to evolve, and changes made last week put it within striking distance of being a wonderful music room." Philadelphia Inquirer 09/22/02


 Last Week's News

Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for our Editor's Pick's of the month.  Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, NY, NY 10019  Also, feel free to nominate your favorite composer-- even if it's you--for Spotlight of the Week.

Saint François d'Assise Debuts
At San Francisco Opera This Week

Since it premiered in Paris in 1983, Olivier Messiaen's Saint Francois d'Assise has developed a reputation for being  one of the great operas of the 20th century although not a whole lot of  people have actually seen it. On Friday,  two decades later, the San Francisco Opera will present the U.S. stage premiere.

The combination of Messiaen and St. Francis of Assisi would seem to be one of those pairings made in heaven.  Messiaen devoted much of his music to exploring his own faith, and many of his works use birdsong as an emblem of the beauty and divinity of nature. The story of Francis's preaching to birds combines the major themes of Messiaen's life and music.

This is not a conventional, narrative-driven opera but, as Messiaen explained it, eight scenes that show the different aspects of grace in Saint Francis's soul. Setting his own libretto, Messiaen's three acts play for nearly five hours. Throw in extravagant orchestration - three ondes martenots distributed around the hall - and fully staging the piece becomes an enormous and expensive undertaking. 

Which, of course, is why it has taken to so long to reach these shores.  Perhaps inspired by the success of an unstaged performance at the 1998 Salzburg Festival, the San Francisco Opera has taken on the sizeable task of presenting U.S. stage premiere of Messiaen's masterpiece.

The new production, which will run for six performances at the War Memorial Opera House, has been three years in the making and represents the largest commitment — both in terms of artistic and financial resources — that the company has ever made. Saint Francois is the first new production conceived and mounted under the the new general director Pamela Rosenberg.

San Francisco Opera

Saint François d'Assise
Composer: Olivier Messiaen
Performer: Kent Nagano, Dawn Upshaw, et al. 
Polygram Records - #445176

Miller Theatre: 
2002-03 Season at a Glance
Classical Grammy Winners

Previous Interviews/Profiles
Simon Rattle, Michael Gordon,Benjamin Lees, Scott Lindroth, David Felder, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Erkki-Sven Tüür,John Luther Adams, Brett Dean, Judith Lang Zaimont, Meyer Kupferman, Evan Chambers, Poul Ruders, Steven R. Gerber, Gloria Coates

Previous Articles/
Busoni The Visionary
The Composer of the Moment:  Mark-Anthony Turnage
Electronic Music
Voices: Henze at 75
Henze Meets Emenim
On Finding Kurtag
Charles Ruggles:  When Men Were Men
Ballet Mécanique
The Adams Chronicles




Speaking of John Adams,  beginning in September 2003 he will assume The Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall, serving for a term of three years. Adams will work closely to develop artistic initiatives for the Hall’s stages with particular focus on the new Zankel Hall, which opens in September 2003. He willl also play a central role in shaping the Hall’s education programs, specifically those focusing on contemporary music. Pierre Boulez, who is the holder of Composer’s Chair through the 2002-03 season, will complete his tenure at Carnegie Hall with a retrospective of his works, including a rare performance of Répons and the U.S. premiere of Dérive II.

Among Adams’s first activities will be supervising the opening festival week of concerts in the new Zankel Hall, scheduled for September of 2003.

Symphony 11: The Year 1905
Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich 
      Performers: Mstislav Rostropovich,
London Symphony Orchestra
   Lso Live - #30 

How many ways can you spell superb?  From the tortured beginning to the shattering climax, Rostroprovich maintains a sense of rising foreboding and menace that inspires a cold sweat in the careful listener.  This is one of those live performances that concertgoers tell their friends about years later.  Symphony 11 is rarely mentioned in the list of Shostakovich's greatest orchestal works.  This recording may change that.  The LSO has never sounded better or more Russian.  Surefire Gramophone winner. 

String Quartets 11 13 & 15
Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich 
      Performers: St. Petersburg String Quartet
Hyperion - #67157 

More spectacular music from Russia's tormented genius, superbly played. The 11th Quartet breaks from the more traditional four-movement structure, and comprises seven separate short movements  thematically unified by a sequence of phrases introduced at the beginning of the first movement. The 13th is  the only single-movement quartet in Shostakovich's output. 
The 15th Quartet was written in 1974, the year before Shostakovich's death and seems to reflect his state of health and mind.  Stark and brooding, it sounds most like a last will and testament. 

Shulamit's Dream; Scenes from Shir ha-Shirim: Biblical Songs
Composer: Mario Davidovsky
Conductor: George Rothman, Anthony Korf Performer: Susan Narucki, Mark Bleeke, et al.
Bridge - #9112 
Commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony in 1993 and given its New York premiere by Susan Narucki and the Riverside Symphony at Tully Hall in 2000, Shulamit's Dream is a suprisingly lyrical,  “quasi-rhapsodic”  setting of The Song of Songs by the Argentine-born Davidovsky, who came to the U.S. about 45 years ago and became a pioneer composer of electornic music.

The Miraculous Mandarin
Composer: Bela Bartok 
Performer(s): Robertson, Orchestre National De Lyon
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #901777 

This is billed as the world premiere
recording of the original score restored in 1999 by Péter Bartók, the son of the composer which contains 30 bars previously missing and also restores dynamics, bowings and other performing
directions from the autograph.  Only those who follow along with the score will know the difference.  Extraordinarily precise and sympathetic reading demonstrating why the young American  David Robertson is   considered one of the best interpretors at modern music by critics and audiences around the world. 

Orchestral Works
Composer: Elisaetta Brusa
Performer(s): Mastrangelo, Nat'l So of Ukraine
Naxos - #8555266 

Call it Neo-Tonal or Neo-Romantic, Brusa's pieces for orchestra break no new ground but they have a kind of formal academic elegance that seems more German than Italian in temperament but demonstrates a lively, intelligent mind at work. 

Orchestral Works
Composer: George Whitefield Chadwick
  Performer:  Schermerhorn, Nashville Sym Orch
Naxos - #8559117

Chadwick is considered the first composer of concert music whose works often show the snap, the wit, the independence of the American spirit. During his career, he modernized the New England Conservatory, taught several generations of American composers, and was a pioneer in making professional instruction available to women and racial minorities. Terrific performances from the first-rate Nashville Symphony.

Cello Concerto
Composer:  Ernst Toch
Mutare Ensemble, Muller-Hornbach
Cpo Records - #999688 

cpo continues to make the case for Toch as a neglected modernist master whose serious work was obscured by his success as a Hollywood film composer. Most of releases is this series have been convincing but this one is somewhat disappointing. The Cello Concerto goes off in too many directions and could have used a good editing. Plus, the sound quality on this recording is strange. Can't put my finger on it, but it's strange.


Complete Works for Violin & Piano
Composer:  Aaron Copland, Posnak, Zazofsky
Naxos - #8559102 

Copland is most known for his ballets and grand orchestral pieces but he often used small chamber works as building blocks to larger concepts. Most interesting here are the arrangements for violin and piano for well-known pieces of Rodeo and Billy the Kid.

It Takes Two
Performer(s): Bart Schneemann
Channel Classics - #18598 

 Have oboe, will travel should be Bart Schneemann motto in this delicious set of duos with some of the world's finest musicians on instruments ranging from the clarinet and the viola to the marimba and the bandoneon. The composers are brand names all--from Andriessen and Bartok to Piazzolla to Vanghan Williams. Most inventive. Our personal favorite of the month.

Cello Sonata / Cello Works
Composers: Schumann, Grieg
Performers: Marie Hallynck, Tiberghien
Harmonia Mundi Franc - #911779 
Harmonia mundi's Les Nouveaux Musiciens features the young Belgian/French cellist Marie Hallynck in stunning accounts of Schumann' s "Adagio and Allegro," "Phantasienstke," and "Funf Stucke im Volkston" for cello and piano, as well as Grieg's "Sonate Pour Violoncelle et Piano." Our kind of easy listening. 

Darkness & Light 4
ComposerPerformer(s): Weiner, Starer, Stern, Korngold, Lees, Holt
Albany Music Dist. - #518 

  The latest release from the Chamber Music Series at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is highlighted by the stunningly original "Piano Trio No. 2 "Silent Voices" (1998) by Benjamin Lees. Anguished and almost unbearably intense, Lees crams more drama, passion and empathy into this 14-minute piece than many composers muster in a lifetime.

Chamber Music
Composer: Lawrence Dillon
Cassatt String Quartet, Borromeo String Quartet, Mendelssohn String Quartet

In 1985, Lawrence Dillon became the youngest composer to earn a doctorate at the Juilliard School. He studied privately with Vincent Persichetti, and in classes with Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, David Diamond and Roger Sessions. Upon graduation, he was appointed to the Juilliard faculty. He is currently Assistant Dean at the North Carolina School of the Arts where he is also Composer-in-Residence and conductor of the contemporary music ensemble. The three pieces recorded here might be considered genre-bending in that they attempt to blend elements of post-modernism and older forms like romanticism. 


SEQUENZA21/ is published weekly by Sequenza21/, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019
Publisher:  Duane Harper Grant  (212) 582-4153
Editor:    Jerry Bowles   (212) 582-3791
Contributing Editor: Deborah Kravetz 
(C) Sequenza/21 LLC 2000
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