JOHN LUTHER ADAMS (b.1953): Arctic Dreams.
Catalogue Number: 06W055
Label: Cold Blue
Description: This evocation of the Arctic landscape is one of Adams' most powerfully evocative and immersive scores to have made it to CD - and that’s saying something, given the magnificent and extraordinary "Become ..." trilogy (10Q010 et al.) The work is divided into six movements of very varied character, vividly evoking different aspects of the utterly alien Arctic world, and in this respect it is markedly different from other works by the composer (02Q069, 03T072), which continue in hypnotically meditative undulations, gradually evolving, for long spans. This may be in part because the piece is dedicated to environmentalist author and friend of the composer Barry Lopez, whose Arctic Dreams lends it its title; the movements resemble chapters of a book, describing different phenomena. The glacial stillness and unearthly light of the strange seasons and auroræ of the far north are certainly represented most vividly, but two movements in particular remind us that this is an environment teeming with energy, and not at all a safe one for unwary human visitors who pay it insufficient respect. One movement, full of grinding, implacable dissonance, depicts the vicious winds and unsurvivable ferocity of an Arctic storm; another suggests a vast flock of wheeling, screaming seagulls - full of life, but utterly indifferent to any human onlooker, except possibly as prey if they have the misfortune to be overcome by the elements. Arctic Dreams is scored for four strings, completely retuned, and four voices; but the addition of three independent layers of digital reverberation allows 32 parts moving in canonic relationships at times, so effectively the piece is for a substantial string orchestra and choir. The music is based on overtone series suggested by Æolian harps that Adams heard on the Arctic tundra - hence the unconventional tuning of the instruments - and all the string sounds are produced on open strings or harmonics, while the voices intone "Arctic Litanies" comprising words in aboriginal languages, so the strange spectral chords and textures of the piece have an appropriately otherworldly effect. Synergy Vocals, Robin Lorentz (violin), Ron Lawrence (viola), Michael Finckel (cello), Robert Black (double bass).