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On the Transmigration of Souls

John Adams Audio CD
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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One of the most powerful concert experiences of recent seasons is about to become one of the most significant releases of the new year: Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Master Chorale, along with an outstanding cast featuring Kelley O’Connor, Tamara Mumford and Russell Thomas, in Deutsche Grammophon’s world-premiere recording of composer John Adams’ ... Read more in Amazon's John Adams Store

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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Warner/Elektra/Atlantic Corp
  • ASIN: 5559514896
  • Other Editions: Audio CD  |  MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful memorial to those who died on 9/11 10 Feb 2005
By Inanna
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
This is a beautiful and powerful piece to commemorate those who died in the terrorist attack on the world trade centre. It combines an orchestra and two choirs (adult and child) with recorded street sounds (cars, footfalls) and voices reading the names of people who died and extracts from missing persons notices and memorials posted round the site of ground zero.
My perception is that it is a quiet piece, but when it does crescendo, it is like a wave carrying me into the emotion. The quiet and simplicity are deceptive - it is a very powerful evocation of the people who died. It reminds me that everyone who died was loved, and leaves me feeling the importance of cherishing every human life.
One technical point - the piece is only 25 minutes long, and there is nothing else on the cd. I think that this works really well - the music is surrounded by silence rather than being crowded in by another track. However, if you were expecting 60 minutes of music you may be disappointed.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fitting memorial for its time and event... 27 May 2005
By MC-4
Format:Audio CD
Adams may have seemed a surprising choice to compose a requiem/memorial to the victims of the New York terrorist attacks. But this piece is remarkable; blending spoken word with choir and orchestra it demands repeated listening. It would have been easy for Adams to compose a piece similar to Barber's Adagio for Strings, often over-used with memorials and commemorations, but he has avoided cliche to produce a unique piece of 'music'.
It could be argued that Transmigration of Souls is not 'musical' in the ordinary sense and will not be performed regularly; that it is an intimate link to those events will preclude regular performance, yet it is still worth hearing even if only once.
The 'live' performance consists of taped 'street sounds' (cars, footfalls) with recorded messages and names of 'missing' individuals played against an orchestral backdrop. This differs so strongly from a detached Requiem, since the named 'missing' individuals and the spoken words of family members are all too real.
Adams has reacted to events that have changed his country permanently with a sincere and humane work. Strongly recommended.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Terror Of A Simple Phrase 19 Oct 2005
By NNNNN
Format:Audio CD
It should be said at the start that this is not "memorial" music as you might expect. Even for the ever evolving and imaginative Adams it is unique. To me it is a stream of conciousness work that involves spoken and sung word, city sounds and orchestra. From this stream the listener will pick up on or latch on to various motifs. It is the words which catch you, hold you and unsettle you. It might be hearing subtlely mentioned the name of one of the 9/11 victims but most unsettling for many of us here in New York it is a few simple phrases. "Have you seen..", "Do you know....", "Missing..", "Do you have any information about...". To many New Yorkers they became terrfying phrases.
In the days after 9/11 hand made posters and notices appeared by the tens of thousands mostly in lower Manhattan but also all over
the city and suburbs. They were put up by family members and friends seeking loved ones lost. Walking down a street one could pass several hundred faces on posters whose opening phrase was one of the above. That I think is where the magnitude of the loss sunk in. Those phrases became etched and Adams use of them still have an emotional pull that is hard to explain. One listens to it all as if in a void where time seems to have stood still. It is a work of around 25 minutes but time does not seem to matter. If you feel that is short measure for a cd I will say listen. It is not the quantity but the content that matters. Besides , what would you ever put after or before this? It is unique and should stand by itself. Thank you Mr. Adams for a truly unique and moving expierence.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Thanks, but no thanks. 17 July 2012
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
I have to confess I'm not an Adams fan. I remember Yakov Kreizberg once saying "I would not mind if I never played any more John Adams"! I only bought this CD because we had to sing it at the 2009 Three Choirs Festival. I know it's had rave reviews by some addicts, but I loathed it. You can have my copy - for nothing!
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  46 reviews
143 of 156 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly, intensely moving; yet ultimately cathartic. 18 Sep 2004
By Bob Zeidler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
In reviewing "On the Transmigration of Souls," John Adams's Pulitzer Prize-winning memorial work to commemorate 9/11, I hope my (usually) reliable words don't fail me. For this is a difficult task, given the effect this work can have on one. It is an unusual work, psychically and spiritually moving almost beyond description, and I believe we all should be thankful that the commission for the work had been awarded to Adams, for I perceive no other composer - certainly no other American composer - as being even remotely up to the task set out. Adams succeeds on every possible level (despite his apparent initial concern that a suitable musical memorial was in fact possible). This is a work of universality, not polemical or political or jingoistic in the slightest. It is neither a requiem nor a kaddish but is in fact a true memorial to those who were lost, not only by Adams, but, through the texts used, by the people who suffered those losses.

And, while it is a "public" piece, it is one of such "private" introspection that it seems to me that only through the recording medium - and then under the best of circumstances, such as the quietest possible background ambience or, better yet, listening with headphones - can its fullest impact be properly made, if only to establish that every single sound one hears in this work is intended to be there. (I had the opportunity to hear the concert performance of the work when it was webcast. I took a bye at the time, and I'm glad that I did. I feel as if, had I listened then, I would always be wondering whether I was actually listening to the work qua work or to the work under "live audience" conditions, with the distractions such conditions can produce.)

"On the Transmigration of Souls" borrows somewhat from, or at least builds largely on the soundworld of, Charles Ives. This works on multiple levels, in both obvious and unobvious ways. There is some innate symbolism in how it mirrors the ambiguity of "The Unanswered Question" in a number of ways (including an intoned trumpet solo, performed to perfection here by Philip Smith, the NYPO principal trumpeter). In various places, the strings play simple diatonic harmonies, just as in TUQ. The nature of the work is, at its core, collage-like, again an Ives touchstone. And there is an unforced connection that may be made between this work and the final movement of Ives's Second Orchestral Set, Ives's spontaneous creative reaction to being in a New York crowd of people on the day that the Lusitania was sunk.

But there are other touchstones familiar to those who know Adams's works well. His earlier masterpiece, "Harmonielehre," established a connection with the soundworlds of Sibelius, Mahler and Wagner, and it is to Sibelius that he seems to turn when, about 17 minutes into the work, a great brass peroration, as if to rise to the sky, punctuated by bold timpani strokes, leads into a massive choral outburst: "light...day...sky..."

"On the Transmigration of Souls" opens with what sounds like normal street noise. But it is soon followed by readers softly intoning "Missing..." and an a capella choral entrance with only harp accompaniment. Then begins the reading of names, softly repeated across the sonic stage. Gradually the orchestra enters as the name reading continues. The solo trumpet intones the Ivesian touchstone, as if to suggest: "What IS the answer to this question?" The choral richness grows ever so slowly and subtly as the readings include not only names but personal reminiscences of the day - and the loved ones lost - that constituted 9/11.

The orchestral music becomes more collage-like; fragments come seemingly from everywhere; harmony becomes more ambiguous and unstable. After eight minutes, the choral intonations become more minimalistic and repetitive, as if to match the readings of the speakers.

At 10 minutes, one hears footfalls while further descriptions of the lost victims continue. A sinister tone on contrabassoon and double bass underpins the readings, and then the brass begin to lash out, with timpani strokes and percussion, mainly bells. At 12 minutes, the chorus begins to intone a more soothing incantation, with the children's choir, and then the adult chorus, singing the tributes and remembrances; once spoken, now sung.

The choral outburst leads to a cacophony of bells and strings, gradually to subside, leading into, at the 17-minute mark, the Sibeliean brass peroration and then the bold massed choral entry. Ultimately the brasses struggle upward and downward simultaneously briefly, fading to (once again) enigmatic string fragments as the reading of the names resumes. Near the 21-minute mark, the harmonies settle into something less ambiguous; more identifiable, almost Mahlerian in their angst, then only to have the enigmatic string harmonies, now mainly in the tonic, return as if to once again and finally remind us of "The Unanswered Question." There is also an Ivesian transcendence to the final harmonic ambiguities, not unlike the closing bars of his 4th Symphony, just prior to the final fade-out, when the street noise is all that is faintly left.

All of this takes place in just 25 minutes, and this is the only work on this Nonesuch "CD Single." We are left to contemplate the day, and the music - what Adams calls "a memory space" - in commemoration of the day. And that is as it should be.

I have long been an admirer of Adams and his compositions. He long ago moved well beyond his initial characterization as a "minimalist," in conflation with Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley, to become an "artist without stylistic borders." "On the Transmigration of Souls" is an unquestioned masterpiece; absolutely everything about it is "right": it hurts; it doesn't heal; it reminds us; and it must be heard.

Bob Zeidler
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than a Requiem or Kaddish: A Memoriam and Refuge 11 Sep 2004
By Grady Harp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
John Adams has created in ON THE TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS a monumental piece that is a fitting tribute to those lost on 9/11 and to the cosmic significance of that horrible event. The world will never be the same after that terrifying assault, and while poets and writers struggle to find a path of solace for those of us who remain behind, it takes a creative genius such as Adams to find the means to bring some semblance of closure. He does this in a 25 minute work that combines the spoken word (pre-recorded) of the names of those lost, fragments of messages found at the sight from both before and after the conflagration, and uses a children's chorus and a large adult chorus to pull these fragments of pain together. Encompassing the moments of silence and the nearly whispered repeated word 'listen' he uses his powers of orchestration and a profound palette of orchestral and vocal color. The end effect is riveting and even more otherworldly than the requiems sung across the nation after that day. This work comes from a man who understands his own humanity and coaxes us into embracing ours. The work is haunting, cleansing and sublimely beautiful. Loren Maazel and the New York Philharmonic give a deeply moving performance. Highly Recommended - for all of us who live.
52 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Shattering Experience; A Crowning Glory for Adams 11 Nov 2004
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Fellow Amazon reviewer Bob Zeidler had recommended this recording to me ages ago and I did indeed buy it. But I left it in its shrink wrap until today. I had thought, from reading earlier reviews, that I would need to be in the right mood and have the opportunity to give it my full attention. As it happens, today -- Veterans' Day, the day we honor our war dead -- seemed appropriate, and I also had the house to myself with no pressing obligations. After the first time I was in tears. I've now listened to it three times back-to-back and have to say that it has been one of the most powerful musical experiences I've had in a long time. I realize that I have not much to add to what has already been said by earlier reviewers, except to add my own endorsement and also to call attention to the really quite wonderful booklet notes by composer/critic David Schiff. I didn't read them until after my first time through. That first time I simply sat back and let the work soak in, referring from time to time to the printed texts on which the work is based. Then I read Schiff's essay and found myself nodding vigorously in agreement with much of what he had to say about Adams, about the work, about Adams's approach to it. I particularly liked that he (as did Zeidler) gives some credit to that quintessential American composer, Charles Ives, for pioneering the sound-layering technique that Adams uses so effectively here. He does it so much better than Steve Reich did in his (to me) meretricious 'Different Trains.'

My advice is that anyone the least bit interested in current music, Adams's in particular, or in having a fitting and moving memorial for those awful events of September 11, need look no further.

Will this work last? Of course, one cannot be sure. But just as Britten's 'War Requiem' has lasted far beyond its memorialization of the dead in World War II because of its musical and universal values, I believe Adams's 'Transmigration of Souls' will, too.

Scott Morrison
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fine piece of the moment, yet a footprint in the ear 5 July 2005
By Jeff Dunn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
John Adams' sensitivity to the subject and orchestration skills weigh mightily in this work, comparable in emotional scope to two earlier works, "Aria of the Falling Body" from the opera "Death of Klinghoffer" and "The Wound Dresser."

The fine qualities above, however, are not enough in my opinion to make this a great MUSICAL work. Great theater with incidental music, yes. What seems to be lacking here is motivic and melodic content, elements that are the most likely to carry the work into future generations.

I agree with the previous reviewer who commented that it was written too soon. The piece is expert reportage of the profound sadness of the moment, but what 9-11 will mean to us as a nation has not yet been played out. Note that Britten's masterpiece had the proper perspective 40+ years after the REAL disaster of the 20th century from which all others flowed, WW1. The upcoming "Dr. Atomic" by Adams may have that perspective, but from the excerpts I've heard so far, the music suffers from the same vacuity of memorability that may prove the undoing of "Transmigration."

The words and the sonic environment carry this work, which I found temporarily moving, but I was left with a hole musically. Perhaps that's what Adams intended metaphorically as a World Trade Center footprint in the ear.

Nevertheless, I am not a completely happy camper, especially for the full list price for only 25 minutes of music and a few nice tiny photos.

In my book, the best music of this kind was composed by Joseph Schwantner, his "New Morning for the World" illustrating the words of Dr. Martin Luther King.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful Memoriam of Our Defining Moment 8 Oct 2004
By Ed Uyeshima - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Realizing he is one of our most important and most played contemporary composers, I have to admit that in the past, I have run hot and cold on John Adams' music. At times, his work can be profoundly moving and emotionally stirring, but there are other times when his minimalist style can become obscure and droning. As it turns out, these opposing forces feed beautifully into this brief but elaborately arranged piece. In fact, Adams proves the ideal choice to produce this magnificent, multi-faceted work as he captures the range of feeling we all felt on 9/11 from abject horror to exhausted numbness. I'm sure there will be some who would have preferred something more Copland-esque, more messianic, more patriotically uplifting to commemorate the memory of that fateful day, but Adams uses his particularly atonal style to great effect producing a piece that is alternately spiritual and otherworldly. Adams is fully aware of the time that has elapsed, as well as the events and revelations that have moved us to opposing political factions. That's why his work feels like what he calls fittingly a "memory piece" since anything that tries to encompass our changed perspective on that day would be far too complex to embrace in a single work. What Adams does capture perfectly is how we remember the unmitigated feeling of violation and concurrently, the insecurity widely shared as to the immortal future of human beings. And he does it economically, clocking in at 25 minutes and conveying the basic message that we do not know where or when we are going.

In totally atypical fashion, Adams has assembled a text comprised of three main sources: brief fragments taken from missing person signs that had been posted by friends and family members in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy; personal reminiscences; and a randomly chosen list of names of the victims. The work also employs a "soundscape" designed in collaboration with engineer Mark Grey that surrounds the audience with pre-recorded city sounds (quiet traffic, voices, footsteps, etc.) and the reading by many different voices of the names of the victims. Conductor Lorin Maazel leads the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, expertly evoking the post-industrial sound that meshes perfectly with the text and sounds, as the drama of the music heightens at the right moments. The aural combination is startling and moving. For the best experience, I recommend listening to this alone with your thoughts and emotions. Adams accurately chose the term "transmigration" to describe his piece since he vividly guides the movement of souls from one state to another with his music and text. Suffice it to say that this is a work for the ages.
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