On the Transmigration of Souls ----Music and Text by JOHN ADAMS----
Winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Music

The PACIFIC CHORALE presents the West Coast Premiere of John Adams' ON THE TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS' - its second performance in the US and its fourth worldwide - at Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center on Sunday, October 19, 2003 at 7 pm.

The quotes below were excerpted from an interview with John Adams given to the New York Philharmonic on the occasion of the World Premiere of his deeply moving work. What better way to describe a masterpiece of music than in the composer's own words.


"Transmigration" means "the movement from one place to another" or "the transition from one state of being to another." It could apply to populations of people, to migrations of species, to changes of chemical composition, or to the passage of cells through a membrane. But in this case I mean it to imply the movement of the soul from one state to another. And I don't just mean the transition from living to dead, but also the change that takes place within the souls of those that stay behind, of those who suffer pain and loss and then themselves come away from that experience transformed."

"My desire in writing this piece is to achieve in musical terms the same sort of feeling one gets upon entering one of those old, majestic cathedrals in France or Italy. When you walk into the Chartres Cathedral, for example, you experience an immediate sense of something otherworldly. You feel you are in the presence of many souls, generations upon generations of them, and you sense their collected energy as if they were all congregated or clustered in that one spot."

Photo:Pacific Chorale presents "I had no desire to create a musical 'narrative' or description.... However, something I had seen on an amateur video taken minutes after the first plane had hit the first tower stuck in my mind: it was an image of millions and millions of pieces of paper floating out of the windows of the burning skyscraper and creating a virtual blizzard of white paper slowly drifting down to earth. The thought of so many lives lost in an instant thousands and also the thought of all these documents and memos and letters, faxes, spreadsheets and God knows what, all human record of one kind or another all of this suggested a kind of density of texture that I wanted to capture in the music, but in an almost freeze-frame slow motion.

"... I eventually settled on a surprisingly small amount of text. And this text falls into three categories. One is the simple reading of names, like a litany. I found friends and family members with different vocal timbres and asked each to read from the long list of victims. Then I made a sort of mantra-like composition out of the tape-recorded reading of these names, starting with the voice of a nine year-old boy and ending with those of two middle aged women, both mothers themselves. I mixed this with taped sounds of the city traffic, people walking, distant voices of laughter or shouting, trucks, cars, sirens, steel doors shutting, brakes squealing all the familiar sounds of the big city which are so common that we usually never notice them.

Sources: NY Philharmonic http://www.newyorkphilharmonic.org/adams and Pacific Chorale

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