On the Transmigration of Souls: A Musical Response to 9/11


Music has many uses. It can  stir us to romantic or patriotic passions, uniting us in love or war. It can even foment revolutions. Music engages our deepest emotions and permeates our memories. It can amuse us, excite us, calm us, or  move us both physically and spiritually.  And as King Solomon discovered with the melodies of David’s harp, music can uplift us,  sustain us in times of difficulty, or even heal us.  Such a healing moment was John Adams’s composition On the Transmigration of Souls,  commissioned for and performed on the first anniversary of 9/11. This work is a striking musical memorial to that terrible day. Written for orchestra, chorus, and children’s choir, subtly layered with recordings of the victims’ names, sounds and cell phone calls of that day, Transmigration of Souls shows that music still has the power to unite and heal us. Amid this haunting blend of music, memories, and sounds of the day, comes the startling, redemptive sound of the trumpet.

Hear this audio  of On the Transmigration of Souls, recently selected by NPR as one of the Top 50 recordings of the decade, and quite rightly so, as it received the Pulitzer Prize (2003) and the “triple crown” of Grammy Awards: “Best Classical Recording”, “Best Orchestral Performance”, and “Best Classical Contemporary Composition”.

image Visit the official website of John Adams, who “may be the most vital and eloquent composer in America” (The New Yorker). John Adams has created many works which make him our preeminent American composer, including the operas Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic (about Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb), El Nino (a multilingual nativity oratorio), as well as numerous works for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, solo voice and instruments, and film.  One of his most popular works is a fanfare for orchestra, Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Adams is also a prominent conductor, having performed with many major orchestras. His book Hallelujah Junction, a musical memoir and journey through his life and career, was selected by The New York TImes as a Most Notable Book of the Year (2008).

Enjoy this excellent  video of John Adams, available at Music in Motion:


HAIL BOP! A Portrait of John Adams by master film-maker Tony Palmer. The dramatic landscapes of America, which Adams brings vividly to life in his music, are backdrops for this intimate portrait of the most performed composer of his generation. His operas Nixon in China and Death of Klinghoffer were international hits, though not without a touch of controversy. Filmed over 12 months, we see the composer at work in his High Sierra log cabin and in rehearsal with Emanuel Ax and Michael Collins. 98 min.  5246  $29.95

Musical excerpts include:
Grand Pianola Music
Century Rolls
The British Girl from The Death of Klinghoffer
I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky
The Wound-Dresser and the Death of Klinghoffer
Slonimsky’s Earbox
Gnarly Buttons
Violin Concerto
Nixon in China

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