John Luther Adams (b. 1953) is an environmentalist and percussionist. He recently won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for music with his piece, Become Ocean, which premiered with The Seattle Symphony on June 20, 2013. The Pulitzer citation described the work, “a haunting orchestral work that suggests a relentless tidal surge, evoking thoughts of melting polar ice and rising sea levels.” All his music is suggestive of the natural world. He recently visited Knoxville for an Earth Day performance of Inuksuit at Ijams Nature Center. Born in Mississippi, he grew up there and in New York. Adams began his musical experience with piano, trumpet, and rock drumming. Influenced by Frank Zappa, he became interested in contemporary classical music. The works of Cage, Feldman and Varèse also greatly influenced him. By the 1970’s he moved to Alaska and became active in Alaskan environmental issues. He still resides there. Adams is known for his compositions that combine the physical and musical worlds to create a sound that transcends boundaries with the resonance of nature. His pieces explore rhythmic complexity, diatonic non-developmental harmonies, extended lengths, chromaticism and dissonance.
Dark Winds (2001) was commissioned for Marty Walker and Cold Blue Music. It appears on the “Adams Fox Fink Cox” cd and features bass clarinet, vibraphone, marimba, and piano. Although it was written just after 9/11, it was not directly tied to the Trade Center Bombing, but is instead a reflection of the personal issues everyone struggles with about life’s meanings. The song begins in the low registers of the piano and bass clarinet, slowly building its way up the scale. The piano, marimba and vibraphone use minor seconds that tremble as they rise slowly. Each instrument plays together, yet separately, each with its own drawn out melody. It contains multiple layers of tempo with a slow harmonic rhythm. Each cluster of chords begins with a dense harmony, separates, lightens, then returns to another cluster of thick chords.
This is the spotify link for the music: https://play.spotify.com/track/4qsStC9L1MGUY2IDJPj2R9
I am comparing the Third Piano Quartet (2005) by George Tsontakis. This piece is similar to Dark Winds in the number of instruments it is composed for. The piano, cello and viola play similar chord clusters, as in Dark Wind, but the violin carries on the melody, clearly not a part of the chord cluster. The rhythmic harmony is much faster than in Adams piece. Quartet is not a minimalist work as Dark Wind is.
I first heard his music on Hearts of Space on NPR. I love the pieces he writes for Marty Walker; such a beautiful, deep sound. I really wish I could have seen the piece they performed at IJAMs, or at least made it to his talk when he was here at UTK.
Feisst, Sabine. "Adams, John Luther." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed May 2, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2247990.
Kosman, Joshua. "Adams, John Luther." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed May 2, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/42624.
Shuster, Eric. “Dark Wind: Eric Shuster Graduate Student Percussion Recital Program Notes.” December 2010. http://lttlebrther.wordpress.com/2010/12/09/dark-wind-john-luther-adams/.
University of Knoxville, Tennessee, School of Music web. “UT Percussion Studies & Nief-Norf Host 2014 Pulitzer Prize Winning Composer John Luther Adams for Earth Day Celebration and Performance.” http://www.music.utk.edu/news/adams.html.
Walls, Seth Colter. WQXR. “John Luther Adams Channels Nature’s Savage Beauty: The Alaskan Environmentalist Introduces His Music.” http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/267409-john-luther-adams-portal/.
Wise, Brian. WQXR. “John Luther Adams’s Become Ocean Wins Pulitzer Prize for Music.” WQXR Blog, April 14, 2014. http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/john-luther-adamss-embecome-oceanem-wins-pulitzer-prize-music/.