The Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, Tim Weiss, conductor
*** Featured in The Encounter - Special Broadcast May 15-22, 2020 ***
Since 1978, Alaska has been John Luther Adams's (b 1953) home and a major inspirational source for most of his compositions. Almost all of his compositions evoke natural phenomena, in particular the wintry Northern landscapes, light, and colors as well as elements of indigenous Alaskan cultures. Adams's music thus shares aesthetic features with nature-inspired works of such composers as Debussy, Ives, Sibelius, and Hovhaness. Due to the use of certain "minimalist" strategies, Adams's music is often classified as "minimalist" or "post-minimalist." He avoids expressive musical rhetoric, prefers reduced and elementally simple musical material, and frequently uses sustained tones and static textures. Adams's compositions embrace just intonation, consonance, and modal harmony, and they often feature a meditative quality and extended length reminiscent of Feldmanesque dimensions.
Like many of Adams's previous works, In the White Silence (1998) is an example of his concept of "sonic geography," through which he attempts to realize the notion of music as place and place as music and reveals his obsession with the "treeless, windswept expanses of the Arctic." The title of the work thus points to Alaskan landscapes in a general sense. And like Dream in White on White, it specifically refers to Adams's fascination with the color of white, a dominant feature of Arctic landscapes. As Adams explains in his preface to the score: "White is not the absence of color. It is the fullness of light. As the Inuit have known for centuries, and as painters from Malevich to Ryman have shown us more recently, whiteness embraces many hues, textures, and nuances."
In the White Silence slowly unfolds over the course of about seventy-five minutes. The work's extended length and non-dramatic structure suggest the idea of music as an "immeasurable space" and reflect the desire to transcend the conventional boundaries of musical composition. In the White Silence, a large-scale work of structural refinement, balance and arresting beauty, gently envelops the listener and thus becomes a "musical presence equivalent to that of a vast tundra landscape."
John Luther Adams: In the White Silence