Carnegie Hall’s “Spring for Music” series invited The Seattle Symphony to come present it’s innovative program on May 6, 2014. John Luther Adams’ “Become Ocean” commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music this past month received it’s East Coast premiere. The score includes 4 harp parts which play extensively throughout the 42 minute work. The work separates the orchestra into three groupings on stage with strings/piano/timpani, winds/mallet percussion/Harp 1A and 1B, and brass/mallet percussion/ Harp 2A and 2B. The program note describes the work as “a sonic environment in which to immerse oneself. It affords the opportunity to experience through sound the rise and fall of waves, the pull of tides, the ceaseless motion of an environment that is ever present yet ever changing.” The harps play near continuously with Harp1 in figures of 5 while Harp 2 plays patterns of 6. Harps 1B and 2B play one octave below Harp 1A and 2A. Each part is doubled by mallet percussion. It is a continual stream of 16th notes at 60 per quarter note and is in constant 4/4 time throughout. The notes start in the lowest range of the harp and gradually change and shift patterns rising and falling through the 29 pages, constantly repeating then changing fingerings. The work is a palindrome so that halfway through the material begins repeating itself in reverse.
It was a thrill to premiere, record and subsequently tour to Carnegie Hall with this work along with my colleagues Valerie Muzzolini Gordon (Principal), Catherine Case and Ruth Mar Tam. It has received glowing reviews from the New Yorker, New York Times, and Seattle Times (among others) stating it richly deserved it’s Pulitzer status. This work may start a prolonged life in professional orchestra programming with the interest it is generating. Harpists beware: it is a mesmerizing piece to perform but is a marathon of étude-like notes and required precision that you must pace yourself for over the duration.