Become Ocean - Reviewed by Tamsin Evans | Regional News Connecting Wellington
John Luther Adams | Issue

John Luther Adams
Photo by Evan Hurd

Become Ocean

Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by: André de Ridder

Michael Fowler Centre, 28th Jul 2023

Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans

The opening notes of Tōru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree ringing delicately through the blue light bathing the stage set the scene for a beautiful and evocative programme. The tuned bells, each allowed to resonate in response to each other, signalled the moment rain began to fall. The bells gradually gave way to marimba, xylophone, and vibraphone, sometimes solo, otherwise in combination, suggesting the different patterns and sounds of rainfall on leaves, or creating ripples in a pond, or a more intense shower hitting the ground. Under changing lighting effects, the three percussionists had the stage to themselves yet filled the auditorium with highly picturesque sound.

Continuing the visual element of the concert, conductor André de Ridder described John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean as “an art sound installation with an orchestra”. de Ridder explained the orchestra was organised, more strictly than is usual, into three distinct sonic groups. Firstly, the strings, augmented with four harps, piano and celeste, then woodwind, and lastly the brass, the density of the sound they would produce being essential for the composer’s intentions.

While the work itself is highly structured, the impression on the listener was much closer to the experience promised in the title. The layers of music surrounded us with waves growing and breaking, a strong undertow and incredibly deep water, ripples on the surface, light moving across the distant view, conflicting energy where currents run in different directions, the rise of the waves before they break, and the rolling, barely restrained energy of a deep ocean swell.

They say we all associate with one of the elements. I think those of us who are water people were truly at home in this piece. It was an immersive and all-consuming experience. The mathematical precision of the composition perhaps evidence of the theory that all things in nature, including the sea, have an order we can describe in art.

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