Sunday, September 13, 2009

On the Transmigration of Souls

I went to the symphony last night. I usually by a small flex package of 6 concerts over the season. I chose last night because they were doing Beethoven's 9Th symphony which includes the "Ode to Joy" poem set to music. It has long been a favorite piece.
What I did not know, was that the first half of the evening was devoted to a work by the contemporary composer, John Adams. It was called On the Transmigration of Souls and was meant to commemorate 9/11. It was an amazing and moving piece of performance art. I don't know that I would buy it to listen to, but to hear it in performance was very touching. There isn't a rhythmic center to the work, but there were voices both recorded and a large choral group, that would punctuate the music with words like "missing' said over and over. Or victims names, or I love you. Or you were the apple of father's eye. And the fact that the concert took place on Sept. 12, it was all very poignant.
After intermission the contrast of the seriousness to the joyfulness of Beethoven's symphony was very strong. It was a very familiar piece and yet I had never heard it done in person before. It was a great evening!
Below is a snippet of a review I got off of Amazon on the John Adams work:

Incredibly, intensely moving; yet ultimately cathartic., September 17, 2004
Bob ZeidlerIn reviewing "On the Transmigration of Souls," John Adam's Pulitzer Prize-winning memorial work to commemorate 9/11, I hope my (usually) reliable words don't fail me. For this is a difficult task, given the effect this work can have on one. It is an unusual work, psychically and spiritually moving almost beyond description, and I believe we all should be thankful that the commission for the work had been awarded to Adams, for I perceive no other composer - certainly no other American composer - as being even remotely up to the task set out. Adams succeeds on every possible level (despite his apparent initial concern that a suitable musical memorial was in fact possible). This is a work of universality, not polemical or political or jingoistic in the slightest. It is neither a requiem nor a kaddish but is in fact a true memorial to those who were lost, not only by Adams, but, through the texts used, by the people who suffered those losses. And, while it is a "public" piece, it is one of such "private" introspection that it seems to me that only through the recording medium - and then under the best of circumstances, such as the quietest possible background ambiance or, better yet, listening with headphones - can its fullest impact be properly made, if only to establish that every single sound one hears in this work is intended to be there. (I had the opportunity to hear the concert performance of the work when it was web cast. I took a bye at the time, and I'm glad that I did. I feel as if, had I listened then, I would always be wondering whether I was actually listening to the work qua work or to the work under "live audience" conditions, with the distractions such conditions can produce.)


weightogo said...

Oh this sounds like it would have been really great Suzanne. I'm reading a book right now that is making me think a lot about art and life and what matters. It's interesting. And one of the things I guess I am thinking lately is that these small little moments where we can surround ourselves with art, or notice something beautiful, are truly transcendent.

weightogo said...

By the way - that's me (Lezlee) - when I'm signed in on my gmail account it says "weighttogo" I have to fix that - it's a blog I never even started and I forget it does that.

Suzanne Barker said...

I wondered who it was! It sounded like you though!

Suzanne Barker said...

I just checked and Itunes has some recordings of it. You can listen to a snippet if you want. After listening, I think I may need to buy it. It still felt powerful.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What an impression that must have left!