Review: String Orchestra Plays John Luther Adams at St. Paul’s

By Daniel Hathaway

The music of John Luther Adams, perhaps one of the most widely-appreciated of contemporary composers, has been performed with some frequency in Northeast Ohio. His Drums of Winter, Wail, Inuksuit, and Veils and Vesper have recently been heard in venues ranging from concert halls to Lake View Cemetery. On January 29, David B. Ellis conducted his new Earth and Air: String Orchestra in Adams’s In the White Silence in Tucker Hall at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights.

Adams, who won a Pulitzer for his Become Ocean, spent 36 years of his life contemplating the natural world in Alaska, the first decade while living in a primitive cabin (read a 2008 New Yorker profile by Alex Ross here). In the White Silence — in common with the work of poet John Haines, who had similar experiences in the vast, soundless Alaskan wilderness and whose poetry is referenced in the score — explores the unexpectedly wide range of colors huddled together at the whitest end of the spectrum, as well as the variety of sounds you can hear in silence when you train your ears to appreciate it.

Written in 1998 and scored for string orchestra, solo string quartet, celesta, two vibraphones, and harp, the work lasts about 80 minutes, although it feels like it could go on all week. Morton Feldman’s influence is strong here. 

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