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New John Luther Adams work premiers at Lincoln Center.

ySTANBUL (CyHAN)- John Luther Adams, the American composer who won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his extraordinary orchestral opus "Become Ocean," enjoyed another triumph late last week at New York City's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts with another new work: "Sila: The Breath of the World."

The setting for the two early evening performances of "Sila" on July 25 and 26 was not a concert hall but in the vast outdoor Hearst Plaza of the Lincoln Center in midtown Manhattan, where 81 performers encircled the large ornamental pool in front of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. The wind players stood on a grassy incline on one side, with string players on cement benches across the pool from them and 17 percussionists positioned around the pool, while 16 female singers dressed in black waded in the pool as they sang through black megaphones.

The work was co-commissioned by the annual Mostly Mozart Festival as a contemporary vanguard for their own classical-era fare, opening in the neighboring Avery Fisher Hall on July 29, and the Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival, now in its 44th year of providing free outdoor concerts, which this year extend through Aug. 29.

Adams' environmental voice

Adams, a resident of Alaska since 1978, shows the unmistakable influence of his relationship to nature and the environment in his music -- almost as if he were able to interpret and reproduce the eloquent language of trees, birds, oceanic movements and unseen magnetic forces. For "Sila," breath was the element that permeated and, in fact, worked with the welcome gentle breezes afforded the 2,500 people in the audience on a hot late afternoon.

Adams explains in the printed program notes: "In Inuit [the indigenous people of Alaska] tradition, the spirit that animates everything is sila, the breath of the world. Sila is the wind and the weather, the forces of nature. But it's also something more. Sila is intelligence. It's consciousness. It's our awareness of the world around us, and the world's awareness of us." Adams harnesses what nature gives us, if we are paying attention, and gives it back to us in gentle, flowing atmospheric soundscapes.

He also explained that this piece "traverses through 16 harmonic clouds, grounded on the first 16 harmonics of [the note] low B-flat. All the other tones in the music fall 'between the cracks' of the piano keyboard -- off the grid of 12-tone equal temperament." In order to accomplish this, many of the musicians were aided by iPhones hooked up to either their instruments or their music rack so that technology could inform them exactly what pitch they were playing and the required timing of each note.

The instruments generally played long tones without vibrato, as did the singers, whose harmonic patterns fell into traditional classical triads -- a factor that I feel detracted from the experimental nature of the score. I grew weary of hearing an endless series of major triads so perfectly in tune (according to our Western ears), while the other sounds from the instruments were far more compelling due to their unpredictability. The final section was only the sound of breath being blown through instruments and megaphones. This gave us a serenely blissful closure, as the sun silently set behind the surrounding Manhattan skyscrapers.

Adams spoke to Today's Zaman after the concert, acknowledging, although it wasn't billed as such, that this was his debut at the Lincoln Center. "Just a few months ago, my 'Beyond Ocean' had its debut in the Carnegie Hall, and now this one in the Lincoln Center. I guess it's a good year for me!"

Bolshoi Ballet's kitschy 'Spartacus'

Russia's esteemed Bolshoi Opera and Ballet enjoyed a notable residency at the Lincoln Center from July 12-27, presenting three full-length ballets and one opera-in-concert, enabling audiences to witness all of their combined forces: solo singers, chorus, orchestra and ballet. Beginning with Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Tsar's Bride," the company followed with Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake," Minkus' "Don Quixote" and Khachaturian's "Spartacus," in a total of 13 performances.

I saw their final performance of "Spartacus" in the Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theatre on July 27 and was alternately amused and dazzled. Firstly, hearing the music of Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian (1903-78) is one of my biggest pleasures, as I am not only a fan of his music, but I also met the composer when he came to my conservatory in my student days. I spoke to him personally and had him sign my orchestra scores of his work. Secondly, hearing his music played by one the best orchestras in the world was a breathtaking experience.

"Spartacus" was written in the mid-1950s and is a bizarre mish-mash of American Broadway musical styles, Soviet pomp and circumstance, Latin salsa, other people's music and retreads of his own "Gayaneh Ballet Suite." His lush orchestrations with juicy romantic melodies, alongside massive amounts of bravado from the brass instruments, illustrated this ballet's essential testament to testosterone, underscoring a kitschy display of the physical prowess of multitudinous male characters, as well as two females embodying good and evil.

The astonishing ballerina Svetlana Zakharova danced the role of the anti-hero's jealous courtesan, Aegina, with elegant evil, displaying her famous long fingers like the branches of a tree. The title role of the brave hero who was ultimately captured in battle was danced with acrobatic perfection by Mikhail Lobukhin.

"Spartacus" has been choreographed three times since its premiere in 1956, and this version by Yuri Grigorovich from 1968 still stands as one of the staples of the Bolshoi repertory. Sometimes the physical movements didn't match the music's thematic energy in sections that seemed to be filler as compared to those that had considerably more character motivation. The bacchanalian frenzies and the many corps numbers of gladiatorial cheerleading were examples of Bolshoi's legendary attributes to their name: "Bolshoi" is the Russian word for "big." And a very big thrill it was to see this magnificent company in such a curious classic.


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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Date:Aug 1, 2014
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