Commissioned by and dedicated to the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra for its Centennial Anniversary.
“An ever-changing scheme of superimposed tempos conveys the complexity of geological layering. The harmony, likewise, is governed by mutating stacks of intervals. At the midpoint of each “range” section, the chords assume a snow-capped tonal grandeur. The ‘basins’ are interludes of tremulous repose, with bursts of drumming breaking through shimmery string textures….In a famous passage in ‘My Antonía,’ [Willa] Cather contemplated the unending vistas of the plains and wrote of the joy of being ‘dissolved into something complete and great.’ The sounding immensity of ‘An Atlas of Deep Time’ afforded the same uncanny pleasure.” - Alex Ross, The New Yorker
Commissioned by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, with co-commissions from the San Diego Symphony and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
“While Become Desert doesn’t have the easily graspable transitions of its predecessor [Become Ocean], it is packed with moments of drama in microcosm. Over a nearly 40-minute span, those slight twists combine to create a new route toward a grand impact.[…] A vast expanse of heartbreak was surveyed in mere seconds, from the vantage of a vessel that barely had to hum to switch gears.” - Seth Colter Walls, The New York Times
“Compared to ‘Become Ocean,’ ‘Become Desert’ is a study in stupefying stillness. High string harmonics reminded me of the relentless sun. In real life, Adams is often seen wearing a hat. But in this music, there is no protection from aural ultraviolet light. Rustling sounds are like insects or plucked cactus or shifting sand. After a long while, you begin to lose a sense of reality, the shimmer stimulating aural mirages.” - Mark Swed, The Los Angeles Times
“Mahler may take us to the heavens, for example, but who else in the history of composition has so masterfully set us down in the middle of nature, and then enabled us to discover the divine in every sound?” - Jason Victor Serinus, Classical Voice North America.
For five ensembles, performing individually or together, in any combination: winds (6,4,4,2), brass (4, 6, 4, 2), voices (6,6,2,2), 16 percussion, strings (3, 3, 4, 4, 2).
Commissioned by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Washington Performing Arts,
Ojai Festival, Cal Performances and the La Jolla Symphony.
“Over the plashing sound of the terraced waterfalls, framed by thickets of yellow irises, came the lowering rumble of timpani. Cutting through the hum of voices and street traffic and bird song was the gleam of brass instruments: the bright flare of a trumpet and the curl of a trombone, unfolding at first single notes, then fragments, then shining arpeggios that rose and gilded the edges of the cool evening…giving voice to an environment, gently amplifying what the world might be trying to say… ” - Ann Midgette, The Washington Post
Commissioned by Music Nova for the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra.
“Together, the orchestra and the electronics evoke a vast rolling sea. Waves of Perfect Fifths rise and fall, in tempo relationships of 3, 5 and 7. At the central moment, these waves crest together in a tsunami of sound encompassing all twelve chromatic tones and the full range of the orchestra.” - Mike Dunham, Anchorage Daily News
“It opened with a riveting gesture, in which all the instruments swept upward through their full ranges in huge, lush arpeggios at different tempos, settling at last into a calm chord. That gesture came back again and again and again, initiating each new phrase of the piece. For an hour several rhythmic levels flowed in contradiction to each other, the string quartet launching into a new crescendo while the orchestra was still, the pianos booming into new arpeggios as the string quartet was still, some lines doubled in unison but otherwise hardly any two levels of activity ever at the same speed… At last the rhythmic levels dropped out one by one, and the piece died away with a radiant pp chord in the orchestral violins.” - Kyle Gann, PostClassic
For orchestra – (picc, 2 flts, 3 obs, 3 clnts, 2bsns, contrabsn, 4 hns, 2 tpts, 2 tbns, tba, timp, susp cymb, vibr, mar, strings).
“…Adams… likes to explore a single sonic and find the teeming life inside… this 12-minute piece of shifting, crackling timbres had a burning intensity.” - Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times
“…a mesmerizing Transcendentalist tone poem that shimmers with myriad orchestral colors… Adams suspends motion without putting his audience to sleep. Hearing this piece was not unlike pondering a Byzantine icon, focusing on gorgeous details while still appreciating the mystery of the whole.” - Kenneth Herman, San Diego Arts
“John Luther Adams, in his The Light That Fills the World, keeps all the orchestra in play, sections changing chords in nonsynchronous patterns for an always-shifting color formula. Everyone contributes to the group energy, no one counts rests, and every role is more or less equivalent.” - Kyle Gann, The Village Voice
“… the music moves across its vast duration with an untroubled serenity. Shifting clusters in the vibratoless string orchestra form the cushion over which the trio and the quartet solo. The trio plays arpeggiated figures that evoke bells of various sorts. The string quartet has virtually all the melodies in the work, which are inevitably slow moving and somewhat yearningly lovely…” - John Story, Fanfare
“… a highly intellectual and deeply sensual work… The mix of beauty and brutality correctly reflects the northern landscape the work depicts… the aching tension, unease and sense of danger that laces through its sonorities.” - Mike Dunham, Anchorage Daily News
“The Time of Drumming demands that an entire orchestra pound the sound into the back wall of the hall… For inspiration, Adams turned to the Yup’ik drumming he has admired since moving to Alaska twenty years ago, and cross-fertilized it with the brute orchestral force of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring'”. - Mike Dunham, Anchorage Daily News
“engrossing and irresistible” - Daniel Cariaga, The Los Angeles Times
“…a ruminative tapestry of arresting beauty… a vast space filled with shimmering textures and tintinnabulary outbursts.” - Allan Ulrich, The San Francisco Examiner
“…hypnotic, mesmerizing. You felt as if should you have to move, you’d best do it in slow motion, so as to not break the fragile bubble surrounding you. Shift languidly, as if under water, so that you do not risk disturbing the surface while you listen to eerie clang and muffled beat of water slapping at boats moored… somewhere.” - Carol Furtwangler, Charleston Post and Courier
“…a ravishingly beautiful landscape…” - Alan Ulrich, San Francisco Examiner
“…wondrous soundscapes of place and the imagination. I can’t remember when a new piece of music has been as thought-provoking as The Far Country of Sleep.” - Marilyn Tucker, The San Francisco Chronicle
His music perfectly echoes the landscape he loves: impersonal, relentless, larger than human scale, yet gorgeous, a quiet chaos of colors, suffused with light. It’s not a climate everyone could live in. But for those who want to bathe their ears in an aural aurora borealis while staying warm inside, it’s a spiritual odyssey well worth taking. - Kyle Gann