ON THE TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS
Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, Roberto Minczuk conducting
May 4 and 5
Jack Singer Concert Hall
Weve all experienced issues or events that seem impossible to handle, but when all else fails, music somehow helps us get through the darkest times and move on.
Over five years after the event, many people remain confused and conflicted about the defining event of the 21st century the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In early 2002 American composer John Adams accepted an incredibly challenging commission, to respond to those catastrophic events by writing a major new work for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
The result, On the Transmigration of Souls, is a magnificent piece that demonstrates the transformative power of music. On May 4 and 5, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Roberto Minczuk, will perform the Calgary premiere of this work.
Minczuk has conducted many of the finest orchestras in the world, including those in his homeland, Brazil. Now completing his first year as music director of the CPO, he has brought intensity, passion and fresh ideas to our city.
"An orchestra cannot just be a museum of the great masterpieces of the past," Minczuk says. "It also has to present works of relevance to our generation, of living composers. Its important for us to discuss subjects like the tragedy of 9/11 on the concert stage, to be able to reflect through music about things that are affecting the world and everybodys lives." He adds that Adamss work is "a piece that almost transports you to the event itself. You put yourself in the place of the victims and of the loved ones and its very touching."
On the Transmigration of Souls breaks down the barriers between concert and popular music by mixing sound elements in an unusual way. Underpinning the full orchestra, chorus and childrens chorus (the CPO Chorus and Cantaré Childrens Choir) is a prerecorded soundtrack including multilayered spoken voices and a city soundscape. The recorded and live voices share a non-narrative, fragmented text.
The text is drawn from three sources a randomly selected list of names of people who lost their lives in New York on 9/11, words and phrases found in missing person signs posted after the event ("We love you Louie. Come home"), and reminiscences of those who lost friends and family ("She had a voice like an angel").
Each fragment of text suggests its own story, reminding the listener how many people were lost in or personally touched by the tragedy. The effect is extremely powerful.
Adamss music combines elements of minimalism, romanticism and popular music in a deliberately non-academic way, and he is one of the most frequently performed composers alive today. He has successfully tackled contemporary issues in the past, most notably in his opera Nixon in China, and was a natural choice for the 9/11 commission.
The composer says that "his desire in writing the piece was to achieve in musical terms the same sort of feeling one gets upon entering one of those old, majestic cathedrals in France or Italy. You feel you are in the presence of many souls
and you sense their collected energy as if they were all congregated in that one spot."
He calls the work "
a memory space. Its a place where you can go and be alone with your thoughts and emotions. The link to a particular historical event in this case to 9/11 is there if you want to contemplate it. But I hope that the piece will summon human experience that goes beyond this particular event."
Indeed, On the Transmigration of Souls allows plenty of space for personal emotional reactions. The music is evocative, but, as befits the complex subject matter, does not dictate simple sentiments.
Towards the end of the composition, however, Adamss intentions become very clear. The orchestra and chorus build slowly, adding layer upon layer of anguish, creating incredible tension. Finally, they arrive at a point of catharsis, in which the choruses repeatedly and triumphantly sing the words "light" and "love."
As before, the dénouement of the piece defies simple description, but a transformation has occurred. There is still uncertainty, but now there is also positive energy.
The other work on the program will be one of the best known and loved pieces in the orchestral repertoire, Beethovens monumental 9th Symphony. Minczuk explains that there is a strong link between the two works. "Beethoven was also someone who was talking about his time and the political events of his time. Both pieces are dealing with the human condition and they both point to love and unity
its wonderful to look up that way and to be inspired by music. You are grasping reality, but you leave the concert hall full of light and hope."