The music and life of Alaska composer John Luther Adams have always been deeply rooted in the natural world. A recipient of the Heinz Award for his contributions to raising environmental awareness, Adams has also been honored with the Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University “for melding the physical and musical worlds into a unique artistic vision that transcends stylistic boundaries.” Adams composes for orchestra, chamber ensembles, percussion and electronic media, and his music is heard regularly all over the world from concert halls to site-specific installations. Called “one of the most original musical thinkers of the new century” (Alex Ross, The New Yorker), Adams won the Pulitzer Prize for Music this year.
This September, Adams brings two of his major works to Cleveland—Inuksuit, a site-specific daylong performance, and Veils and Vesper, an ongoing immersive sound installation.
Some musical events encourage a community to take stock of its surroundings, but very few fold so seamlessly into the environment itself that they become part of a community’s memory and imagination. Inuksuit is one of those works. Scored for 9 to 99 percussion players who are meant to be widely dispersed in an outdoor area, Inuksuit has been described by the New York Times as “the ultimate environmental piece.” The title refers to the Stonehenge-like markers used by the Inuit and other native peoples to orient themselves in Arctic spaces. Adams structured the rhythmic layers in the score to mimic these stone shapes, but there’s an open-endedness to how the music is performed that reflects the sense of freedom behind it.
“Each performance of Inuksuit is different,” Adams explains, “determined by the size of the ensemble and the specific instruments used, by the topology and vegetation of the site—even by the songs of the local birds. The musicians are dispersed throughout a large area, and the listeners are free to discover their own individual listening points, which actively shapes their experience.”
Inuksuit has been performed numerous times, and in various spaces, since Adams first composed it in 2009. This first Cleveland performance includes percussionists from throughout the region in a unique collaboration with the Lake View Cemetery.