Ludovic Morlot conducts SSO at Carnegie Hall.

I’m still processing the experience of the Seattle Symphony’s performance of Become Ocean at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday, May 6. SSO performed the Pulitzer Prize–winning piece by John Luther Adams as part of the Spring for Music series, which will sadly constitute the final chapter of that worthy festival’s history.

By now the program itself is as familiar as a friend. I heard the second half twice in Seattle, some rehearsal sessions, and the entire program on Friday (May 2) during the SSO’s epic “preview” evening of the Carnegie adventure for Seattle audiences. But the concert itself included an extra dimension of excitement: the New York premiere of Become Ocean, the reactions of major critics in a world music center, and the unmistakeable ambience of Carnegie Hall itself. Even disregarding my obvious bias, this was received as a triumph for the amazing talent of the Seattle Symphony and its music director Ludovic Morlot. Certainly John Luther Adams’s big orchestral piece is challenging music, requiring a major effort from the listener while at the same time profoundly engaging the emotions.

The thoughtful dramaturgy of the program, combining Adams with Varèse and Debussy, was justly admired for its contrasts and cross-connections. Here’s a quick round-up of the critical coverage:

Alex Ross, The New Yorker: “Carnegie’s mellow, resonance-rich space brought out the Wagnerian aspect of Become Ocean.”

Justin Davidson, New York magazine:”… ravishingly traditional in the way it relies on walls and floor and ceiling to convert raw sound into the illusion of shimmering surfaces and the violent deep.”

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times: “uncompromising, courageous”

To read more coverage of SSO’s New York concert and view a live stream of Become Ocean, visit Thomas May’s Memeteria blog. 

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