John Luther Adams: Arctic Dreams — music of the spheres

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For over 40 years, John Luther Adams lived in the northernmost reaches of Alaska. While he was there, he says he discovered a unique musical world grounded in “space, stillness and elemental forces”, the sounds of nature that have informed a lifetime’s music since.

While others have devoted themselves to campaigning on issues relating to the natural world, Adams (not to be confused with his American compatriot, composer John Adams) decided to give up his full-time job as an environmental activist and make his case through music.

Album cover of ‘Arctic Dreams’ by John Luther Adams

His latest work, Arctic Dreams, harks back to that period in the chill north. It is written for four string players and four singers, though the multiple layers of digital delays composed into the score take the result into the atmospheric reaches of the music of the spheres.

Each of the movements explores a different sonority, a different landscape. “The Circle of Winds” is buffeted by blustery cross-currents of strings. “River with No Willows” is haunted by siren voices in the wind. An icy chorus of howls and screeching violins, like skates grating across a pond, introduce “One That Stays All Winter”.

This is a wholly distinctive kind of minimalism that John Luther Adams has made his own. Synergy Vocals, known for their recordings of Steve Reich and Arvo Part, are joined by violinist Robin Lorentz, violist Ron Lawrence, cellist Michael Finckel, and bassist Robert Black. As the climate change movement grows in strength, it has its soundtrack ready-made.

★★★★☆

Arctic Dreams’ is released by Cold Blue Music



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