22 Aug 2011

Adams – On the Transmigration of Souls

Written by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: piccolo, 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo), 3 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 tubas, timpani, suspended cymbal, glockenspiel, chimes, crotales, triangles, brake drums, 2 harps, piano, celesta, quarter-tone piano, strings, chorus, children’s chorus.

Duration: 23 minutes.

THE COMPOSER – JOHN ADAMS (b. 1947) – The New York Philharmonic approached John Adams in late January 2002 with a commission for a commemorative work to be performed on the opening concert of their 2002-03 season, almost exactly one year after the attacks of September 11, 2001. This gave the composer little more than six months but there was never a doubt that he would accept the offer. According to Adams himself, “I needed to do it.”

THE MUSIC – Adams was clear in interviews from the beginning that On the Transmigration of Souls was not a “requiem” or a “memorial” but rather a “memory space” where as a listener “you could go and be alone with your thoughts and emotions.” He felt the work needed to have a meta-historical resonance in addition to its specific connection to the tragedies of September 11, saying, “I hope that the piece will summon human experience that goes beyond this particular event.” On the concept of “transmigration,” Adams acknowledges that the word can (and should) mean many things. The movement from “one place to another” or from “one state of being to another” could apply to single humans, entire races, other species, molecules and yes, souls. His intention was a tribute not only to the passage from life to death, but also to the inner transformations that occur among those who survive. The text was compiled by Adams from three different sources: the numerous missing loved one signs posted in the aftermath of the event; personal remembrances (particularly those recounted in the New York Times series “Portraits of Grief”); and a random selection from the list of victims itself. The resulting music has an unpretentious emotional completeness, ranging through grief, anger and ultimately optimism. Art and memory are linked here with the greatest possible humility – exactly what Adams and the rest of us needed, and still need.

THE WORLD – In 2002, the Euro was officially introduced throughout Europe in its note and coin form, “No Child Left Behind” was signed into law, and the mysterious respiratory disease SARS began its fatal 8-month march around the world.

THE CONNECTION – These performances mark the Utah Symphony premiere of On the Transmigration of Souls.