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Seattle Symphony to play Pulitzer winner at Carnegie

Composer John Luther Adams
Krzysztof Serafin

The Seattle Symphony and Music Director Ludovic Morlot have great karma - plus good taste and timing. Months ago, the orchestra scheduled "Become Ocean" by John Luther Adams as its opening piece for its Carnegie Hall concert Tues. May 6; This month the work won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in music, making Seattle's Carnegie appearance a "must-hear" on the New York concert scene.

The award is given for a specific composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year.

Seattle commissioned the John Luther Adams piece and gave its world premiere last June in Seattle. The Pulitzer citation called "Become Ocean" a "haunting orchestral work that suggests a relentless tidal surge, evoking thoughts of melting polar ice and rising sea levels." Aside from its connection to climate change, the music was applauded by Alex Ross of the New Yorker, who wrote: "It may be the loveliest apocalypse in musical history.”

According to a report in NewMusicBox, John Luther Adams has not heard “Become Ocean” played live, and thus especially looks forward to the Carnegie performance.

Naturally, the folks attached to the Seattle Symphony were thrilled by the Pulitzer announcement. "As soon as we premiered 'Become Ocean,' we had the distinct impression that it was special," said Executive Director Simon Woods. "It’s a work that literally changes the way we write for orchestra. Perhaps it’s not too much to say that it’s one of the early masterpieces of the 21st century.”

The composer has made a direct connection between his work and the environment. "It’s my belief that music can contribute to the awakening of our ecological understanding. By deepening our awareness of our connections to the earth, music can provide a sounding model for the renewal of human consciousness and culture," he wrote on his website.

The entire Seattle Symphony presentation at Carnegie (a part of the fine “Spring for Music” series, which, alas, is in its final year of funding) was clearly created as an organic whole. After "Become Ocean," the orchestra plays “Déserts” by Edgard Varèse and Claude Debussy’s "La Mer." As of April 25, a few tickets were still available.

Coincidentally, one of the finalists for this year's Pulitzer music prize was a composition by the other John Adams, one of the best known U.S. composers. A work of his won the 2003 Pulitzer and another was a finalist in 1998.