JL Adams: Become Ocean

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: JL Adams
LABELS: Cantaloupe
ALBUM TITLE: JL Adams
WORKS: Become Ocean
PERFORMER: Seattle Symphony/Ludovic Morlot
CATALOGUE NO: CA 21101 (CD & DVD)

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‘Listening to it we become ocean,’ wrote John Cage on the music of friend and fellow radical Lou Harrison. John Luther Adams neatly invokes Cage’s epithet in Become Ocean, a wondrous and tumultuous single-movement work for large orchestra that affirms music’s capacity to shift our very state of being, while also conveying an urgent and unsentimental ecological message.

CAAs the prefatory note by the composer states: ‘Life on this earth first emerged from the sea. Today, as the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans face the prospect that we may once again quite literally become ocean.’ What might risk seeming a too portentous pronouncement on the fate of humankind is instead wholly earned by a score of remarkable depth and beauty, and is righteously uttered by John Luther Adams, a renowned and long-standing conservationist.

The work combines great formal simplicity – its 42 minutes are structured around just three magnificent swells of sound – with an almost unfathomable complexity of timbre and, at times, tonal construction. The Seattle Symphony (who commissioned and premiered the work in 2013) give an outstanding account and the release also benefits from an additional surround-sound DVD, summoning the listener to a mesmeric and transfiguring sonic world.

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Kate Wakeling