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John Luther Adams

In the White Silence (1998)
Taiga Press (BMI)
Large Ensemble (7 or more players)
Year Composed
1 Hour 15 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
string quartet
Programme Note
John Luther Adams In the White Silence (1998)
White is not the absence of color. It is the fullness of light.

Silence is not the absence of sound. It is the presence of stillness.

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.

As John Cage reminded us, silence does not literally exist. Still, in a worlds going deaf with human noise, silence endures as a deep and resonant metaphor.

In his Poetics of Music, Stravinsky speaks of music as a form of philosophical speculation. But music can also be a form of contemplation: the sensual reaching for the spiritual.

I aspire to music which is both rigorous in thought and sensuous in sound.

For many years now, I've been obsessed with the notion of music as place, and place as music. The treeless, windswept expanses of the Arctic are enduring creative touchstones for my work, and In the White Silence is an attempt to evoke an enveloping musical presence equivalent to that of a vast tundra landscape.

But I want to go beyond landscape painting with tones, beyond language, metaphor and the extra-musical image. I want to leave the composition, the "piece" of music, for the wholeness of music.

I no longer want to be outside the music, listening to it as an object apart. I want to inhabit the music, to be fully present and listening in that immeasurable space which Malevich called "a desert of pure feeling".

This work is dedicated, with love and gratitude, to the memory of my mother.

John Luther Adams

Preview the score:

  • Ensemble
    Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble
    Tim Weiss
    New World Records:
  • 19 MAY 2018
    Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego, USA
    San Diego Symphony Orchestra
    John Stubbs, conductor

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