Adams: On the Transmigration of Souls

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LABELS: Nonesuch
WORKS: On the Transmigration of Souls
PERFORMER: New York Choral Artists, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, New York PO/Lorin Maazel
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79816-2
John Adams states that this Pulitzer-winning composition is not a Requiem or a memorial but a ‘memory space’ in which the individual’s reflections on the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 can be accommodated, while also hoping that the piece will ‘summon human experience that goes beyond this particular event’. To imply this kind of detachment is of course to court paradox, as the structure and content of the composition actually anchor it very firmly to the occurrence in question. The work is devised for orchestra, voices and a recorded soundtrack which combines everyday sounds of the city with phrases and quotes from individual written memorials, fragments from other sources and a partial list of the victims’ names. The orchestral component is ethereal and cavernous, the choral arrangements surprisingly striking given the stripped-down nature of this composer’s style in general and this composition in particular. It’s easy to be cynical about such a project, but despite its force and musical scope there’s a poignant subtlety here which is expertly handled in the carefully judged performance that Lorin Maazel draws from his assembled forces. As one of many responses to this entirely unexpected act of war, such a work has its place. Roger Thomas