John Luther Adams
Sila: the Breath of the World
The Crossing; Jack Quartet; University of Michigan Chamber Musicians; University of Michigan Percussion Ensemble
Cantaloupe CA21177 57:05 mins
John Luther Adams’s music is like nobody else’s. Meditative in mood yet urgent in message, his compositions conjure up the wonders of the natural world with mesmerising grace, while also drawing attention to the horrors of ecological collapse. Indeed, Adams has spent a substantial portion of his working life as a conservationist and so brings a clearsighted perspective to environmental matters, which in turn lends his creative voice terrific power.
Adams often writes works that are epic in scale. Scored for double symphony orchestra, his Pulitzer-winning Become Oceanoffered a tumultuous meditation on the earth’s rising sea levels. Premiered in 2014 outdoors at the Lincoln Center, Sila: The Breath of the World is no less ambitious in scale and concept. The work explores the Inuit idea of ‘Sila’, defined by Adams as ‘the wind and the weather, the forces of nature’ but also ‘consciousness… our awareness of the world around us, and the world’s awareness of us.’ It is scored for five ensembles of 16 musicians – woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings and voices – who may then perform the music at their own pace. Unfolding across some 57 minutes, the work’s gradual transformations in pitch and mood happen imperceptibly, moving from deeply sonorous rumbles to celestial shimmers. With a stellar line-up of performers and crystal-clear recording quality, this is a profoundly arresting album. As the composer reflects: ‘in this time when we humans are so dramatically changing the earth, Sila is an invitation to stop and listen more deeply.’