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The Crossing--John Luther Adams, US Premiere

Location: Pennsylvania, USA
Choir type: Professional Choirs
The Crossing presents the US Premiere of John Luther Adams' Canticles of the Holy Wind co-commissioned with the Latvian choir Kamer.
The Crossing
Donald Nally, conductor
Sunday, September 15, 2013  @ 4PM
1400 N. American Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
Click here for our 2013/2014 season brochure.
Come. Hear. Now.

Donald’s thoughts on Canticles of the Holy Wind
John’s Canticles of the Holy Wind, for four choirs of eight singers each - The Crossing’s largest forces to date - hovers, soars, echoes, and chirps, and is therefore perfectly matched to the Icebox and its amazing acoustic, with its giant projection wall filled with lovely complementary images by artist Dan Cole. I am drawn to this music, not just for the beauty of its shimmering harmonies and the overwhelming climactic moments, nor just for my ever-increasing interest in works about nature, but also for what it inspires us to think about through the world it creates. For me, contemporary works that address nature descriptively (like Santa Ratniece’s music sung last summer) seem to put us in an unfamiliar place for which we nevertheless instinctively long. We simply don’t interact with the natural world very much, but it is our root and our sustenance, and is in our not-too-distant collective memory. So, a work like Canticles, alternating between movements describing the nature of winds and movements of bird calls, seems to magnify the distance we are from that root...and it may even be a warning of just how far we can go before these sounds disappear.

That last statement is me editorializing; John’s work is apolitical; it exists independently as a very beautiful creation: fourteen movements of a certain kind of spiritual bath. Part of that beauty comes from John’s creative process, which involves a lot of math. Of course, we know (at least from Newton on, but especially as products of the 20th century) that all of nature can be described mathematically and it’s largely figuring out this infinitely complex mathematical system that occupies much of what we call “science” today. Richard Feynman (friends of The Crossing will remember his thoughts on paradox were quoted in Lew Spratlan’s Vespers, premiered in 2010) said that “to those who do not understand mathematics it is difficult to get across the feeling of the beauty, the deepest beauty of nature.” Well, John has found a way to do that, to express the great beauty of the “outdoors,” “indoors,” by employing some pretty spectacular math in his Canticles. You don’t hear the math, but it’s there, starting with some techniques that remind us of early Renaissance music - like Josquin - and making calculations to create giant canonic structures in which perfection and inevitability are inseparable. Each of the four choirs sings in a slightly different time, so the canons all converge at a meeting point, from which they then all move away again (though, they don’t reverse - these aren’t palindromes - which I think is also important; the music largely hovers, but it is nevertheless moving forward). And, by making the movements at times rather extended, he allows us - both singer and listener - to stop our otherwise digitalized, electrified, forward-moving lives and just experience these sounds as if we were sitting in the woods for an hour. An hour of winds and of birds. This is a great gift. 

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