Winged Muses


The composer John Luther Adams in Central Park, listening for his winged muses. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times

Occasionally we have reason to think of muses; every day we think of birds. Today birds are the muse. We have linked to this composer’s work once previously, and I am happy with the coincidence of reading again about this composer on Global Big Day in this review by Michael Cooper, Listen to ‘Ten Thousand Birds’ and Its Warbling, Chirping Inspirations:

New York is not usually considered a naturalist’s paradise. But John Luther Adams, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and former environmental activist, did not have to walk far from his Harlem apartment this week to be serenaded in Morningside Park and Central Park by choirs of robins, sparrows, flickers, catbirds and, finally, a wood thrush, with its poignant “ee-o-lay” song.

”That’s the one that started it all for me, 40-however-many years ago,” Mr. Adams, 64, said as he paused in a sun-dappled spot in Central Park’s North Woods to savor the wood thrush’s melody.

Bird song is a crucial element in the music of Mr. Adams, whose acclaimed works (“Become Ocean,” from 2013, won a Pulitzer and a Grammy) confront climate change head-on in their evocations of the natural world. “We are apparently running out of time as a species,” he said. “And yet what choice do we have but to keep trying, and to stay in touch with those older, deeper rhythms that remind us of where we are and how we fit into the whole community of life on the earth.”

This is a big New York moment for two of his more recent ornithologically inspired pieces: “Ten Thousand Birds,” which evokes the species of each region where it is performed, will have its New York premiere on Sunday in a free performance in Morningside Park, the culmination of Mr. Adams’s weeklong residency at Symphony Space. And a recording of “Canticles of the Holy Wind,” his ethereal choral work based on thrushes, sparrows, owls and a virtuosic mockingbird, was released by Cantaloupe Music on Friday.

Birds have inspired (human) composers throughout history, from ancient Greece, to Mozart’s Papageno in “The Magic Flute,” to Wagner’s Forest Bird in “Siegfried,” to Stravinsky’s Nightingale in “Le Rossignol,” and on to Messiaen’s bird songs. It was the “ee-o-lay” of a wood thrush, which Mr. Adams first heard in 1974, that set him on the two paths that came to define his life: composing and environmentalism…

Read the whole story here.

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