“It may be the loveliest apocalypse in musical history.” Alex Ross (The New Yorker)

On May 7 2014, the New-York premiere of John Luther Adam’s Become Ocean (commissioned by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra) was reviewed as an exemplar of musical modernity. In the same year, Become Ocean was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music and the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. This piece is a single movement piece inspired by the oceans of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. This work, overall, conveys the harsh environmental realities, therefore implying an apocalyptic feel.

Adams states that “Life on this earth first emerged from the Sea. As the polar ice melts and sea levels rise, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean.”

In the Carnegie Hall ‘Spring Concert’ review, David Allen encapsulates the whole musical program in a detailed and highly articulate manner by firstly describing the types of sound heard, and attaching certain sounds to create a sense of narrative. Allen’s review had immediately sparked my interests because of the way he describes the programmatic elements, whilst also elaborating on the inspiration taken from past works such as Smetana’s Ma Vlast.

The overall content was appropriate for new and existing music enthusiasts. Allen’s review did not contain any esoteric information, rather, the language used is to merely describe the connection between the piece and the real-world. This highly descriptive way of writing allows this review to be less biased and more focused on the relationship between the listener and the composition.

Allen has explained both the musical and extra-musical elements of Become Ocean. For example: “Adams opens his piece in the depths, with low strings, heavy brass, and clusters of winds. It’s a modern-day Rheingold if ever there was one, possessed of an inexorable power born of oceanic weight rather than fluvial rush.” To further establish my understanding, Allen then describes the use of pre-existing musical pastiche as a way to generate the quality of sound produced by the orchestra.

After analysing Allen’s review, this allowed me to further research more into the realms of experimental music, the exploration of new compositional conventions, and expressionism.

Link to review: https://bachtrack.com/review-adams-become-ocean-may-2014


David, Allen. The Seattle Symphony brings John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean to “Spring for Music”. May 7, 2014. Accessed 28 February, 2017.