Last updated: September 21, 2022
OUTI TARKIAINEN Songs of the Ice
ANNA CLYNE Restless Oceans
JOHN LUTHER ADAMS Become Ocean
Tonight’s second NACO concert of the SPHERE Festival features music inspired by and evoking the many facets of one of nature’s fundamental elements: water. Through their compelling works, the composers Outi Tarkiainen, Anna Clyne, and John Luther Adams seek to draw our attention to environmental, social, and cultural concerns close to their hearts, such as climate change and gender and racial discrimination. As John Luther Adams has put it, “If my music can inspire people to listen more deeply to this miraculous world we inhabit, then I will have done what I can as a composer to help us navigate this perilous era of our own creation.”
American composer John Luther Adams’s distinctive music is “grounded in space, stillness, and elemental forces,” shaped by nearly 40 years of having lived in northern Alaska. During the 1970s and 80s, he worked as an environmental activist, but later decided to become a composer full time, believing that music can be a more powerful force for change than politics. In his view, music offers possibilities of imagining “a culture and a society in which we each feel more deeply responsible for our own place in the world,” and the transformative potential “to bring that culture and that society into being.”
Commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and their then-Music Director Ludovic Morlot, Become Ocean was composed in 2013, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Music a year later. In Adams’s words,
It is a meditation on the deep and mysterious tides of existence. Life on Earth first emerged from the sea. And as the polar ice melts and sea levels rise, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may literally become ocean.
While the work embraces the idea that “eventually, we begin to realize that we’re part of something much larger than ourselves,” Adams notes that the title arises from a more personal source:
Back in the late ’70s, John Cage wrote a mesostic poem called “Many Happy Returns”, in honor of his dear friend—also my mentor and friend—Lou Harrison. He compares Lou’s music to a river in delta, with all these different influences and currents, coming together in a big, beautiful sweep of music. And in the last line of the poem, Cage writes,
LiStening to it
I’ve always been struck by what a beautiful image that is.
Become Ocean is an immersive experience, during which the orchestra becomes an immense sonic body. The sections of the orchestra—woodwinds, brass, and strings—each play sections of music that are repeated a specific number of times. The resulting effect to the ear is of different timbres and sonorities emerging out of and receding back into the oceanic mass as the piece unfolds. Over the span of 42 minutes, these wave-like sections progress, on one level, as six seven-minute sections. On another level, these sections can be grouped as three 14-minute arcs, reaching massive climaxes at the seven-, 21-, and 35-minute marks, when the peaks of the cycles of the instrumental sections coincide. At these half-way points, the music begins to move backward, eventually subsiding. This palindromic structure also shapes the piece at its largest structural level, when, from the mid-point, the music proceeds in reverse, providing a poignant change of perspective to what came before.
Program notes by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD
(Born in 1985)
Outi Tarkianen was born in Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland, a place that has proved a constant source of inspiration for her. She has long been drawn to the expressive power of the human voice, but has written vocal, chamber, and solo instrumental works as well as works for orchestra and soloist. “I see music as a force of nature that can flood over a person and even change entire destinies,” she once said.
Outi has been commissioned by orchestras including the San Francisco Symphony, BBC Symphony, BBC Philharmonic, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, and Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestras, and her music has been taken up by the symphony orchestras of St Louis, Detroit, and Houston, among others. Her early work with jazz orchestras culminated in Into the Woodland Silence (2013), a score that combined the composer’s sense of natural mysticism with the distinctive textures of the jazz orchestra tradition. Major works since include an orchestral song cycle to texts by Sami poets The Earth, Spring’s Daughter (2015), the saxophone concerto Saivo (2016, nominated for the Nordic Council Music Prize), and Midnight Sun Variations premiered at the BBC Proms in 2019 (nominated for the Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco’s Musical Composition Prize). Her first full-length opera, A Room of One’s Own (2021), was commissioned and premiered by Theater Hagen in Germany.
Outi studied composition at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, the Guildhall School in London and at the University of Miami. She has been composer-in-residence at the Festival de Musique Classique d’Uzerche in France and was for four years co-artistic director of the Silence Festival in Lapland.
By Andrew Mellor
Conductor: Alexander Shelley
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Mintje van Lier (principal)
Winston Webber (assistant principal)
*Andréa Armijo Fortin
Jethro Marks (principal)
David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
David Marks (associate principal)
Rachel Mercer (principal)
Julia MacLaine (assistant principal)
*Joel Quarrington (guest principal)
Joanna G'froerer (principal)
Charles Hamann (principal)
Kimball Sykes (principal)
Darren Hicks (principal)
Lawrence Vine (principal)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal)
Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik
**Donald Renshaw (principal)
*Steve Dyer (guest principal)
Chris Lee (principal)
Assistant Personnel Manager
**On Leave/En congé
SPHERE is presented as part of Nordic Bridges, a year-long cultural initiative led by Harbourfront Centre in Toronto and supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers. Visit NordicBridges.ca to learn more.