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Adams: On the Transmigration of Souls

3.8 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Audio CD, August 31, 2004
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

John Adams - On The Transmigration Of Souls - Cd

Amazon.com

This is the first recording of Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls (which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in music), by the orchestra and conductor that commissioned and premiered it. Adams grips from the start, with a slow buildup of taped mundane city sounds, the obsessively repeated word "missing" superimposed on them. The taped texts are drawn from fragments found on missing person posters, newspaper memorials, and the names of victims of the 9/11 attack. Sometimes the taped voices dominate; at others, the chorus intones the texts; the orchestra an ever-present commentator, its impressionistic harmonies fulfilling Adams’ description of creating a "memory space" where each listener can find a personal response to the events. The orchestra erupts in an overwhelming climax after the words "I wanted to dig him out," managing, in a brief passage, to encompass anger, deep grief, and the enormity of the tragedy. Then it subsides into a long, slow decrescendo overlaid by the quiet recitation of names, as if the souls of the title hover over us. Adams has created music for his time and place that fulfills music's ability to move us. --Dan Davis
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: New York Philharmonic
  • Conductor: Lorin Maazel
  • Composer: John Adams
  • Audio CD (August 31, 2004)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B0002JNLNM
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,454 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
In reviewing "On the Transmigration of Souls," John Adams'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 ambience 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 webcast. 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.
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John Adams has created in ON THE TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS a monumental piece that is a fitting tribute to those lost on 9/11 and to the cosmic significance of that horrible event. The world will never be the same after that terrifying assault, and while poets and writers struggle to find a path of solace for those of us who remain behind, it takes a creative genius such as Adams to find the means to bring some semblance of closure. He does this in a 25 minute work that combines the spoken word (pre-recorded) of the names of those lost, fragments of messages found at the sight from both before and after the conflagration, and uses a children's chorus and a large adult chorus to pull these fragments of pain together. Encompassing the moments of silence and the nearly whispered repeated word 'listen' he uses his powers of orchestration and a profound palette of orchestral and vocal color. The end effect is riveting and even more otherworldly than the requiems sung across the nation after that day. This work comes from a man who understands his own humanity and coaxes us into embracing ours. The work is haunting, cleansing and sublimely beautiful. Loren Maazel and the New York Philharmonic give a deeply moving performance. Highly Recommended - for all of us who live.
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Fellow Amazon reviewer Bob Zeidler had recommended this recording to me ages ago and I did indeed buy it. But I left it in its shrink wrap until today. I had thought, from reading earlier reviews, that I would need to be in the right mood and have the opportunity to give it my full attention. As it happens, today -- Veterans' Day, the day we honor our war dead -- seemed appropriate, and I also had the house to myself with no pressing obligations. After the first time I was in tears. I've now listened to it three times back-to-back and have to say that it has been one of the most powerful musical experiences I've had in a long time. I realize that I have not much to add to what has already been said by earlier reviewers, except to add my own endorsement and also to call attention to the really quite wonderful booklet notes by composer/critic David Schiff. I didn't read them until after my first time through. That first time I simply sat back and let the work soak in, referring from time to time to the printed texts on which the work is based. Then I read Schiff's essay and found myself nodding vigorously in agreement with much of what he had to say about Adams, about the work, about Adams's approach to it. I particularly liked that he (as did Zeidler) gives some credit to that quintessential American composer, Charles Ives, for pioneering the sound-layering technique that Adams uses so effectively here. He does it so much better than Steve Reich did in his (to me) meretricious 'Different Trains.'

My advice is that anyone the least bit interested in current music, Adams's in particular, or in having a fitting and moving memorial for those awful events of September 11, need look no further.

Will this work last? Of course, one cannot be sure.
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Format: Audio CD
John Adams' sensitivity to the subject and orchestration skills weigh mightily in this work, comparable in emotional scope to two earlier works, "Aria of the Falling Body" from the opera "Death of Klinghoffer" and "The Wound Dresser."

The fine qualities above, however, are not enough in my opinion to make this a great MUSICAL work. Great theater with incidental music, yes. What seems to be lacking here is motivic and melodic content, elements that are the most likely to carry the work into future generations.

I agree with the previous reviewer who commented that it was written too soon. The piece is expert reportage of the profound sadness of the moment, but what 9-11 will mean to us as a nation has not yet been played out. Note that Britten's masterpiece had the proper perspective 40+ years after the REAL disaster of the 20th century from which all others flowed, WW1. The upcoming "Dr. Atomic" by Adams may have that perspective, but from the excerpts I've heard so far, the music suffers from the same vacuity of memorability that may prove the undoing of "Transmigration."

The words and the sonic environment carry this work, which I found temporarily moving, but I was left with a hole musically. Perhaps that's what Adams intended metaphorically as a World Trade Center footprint in the ear.

Nevertheless, I am not a completely happy camper, especially for the full list price for only 25 minutes of music and a few nice tiny photos.

In my book, the best music of this kind was composed by Joseph Schwantner, his "New Morning for the World" illustrating the words of Dr. Martin Luther King.
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