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On the Transmigration of Souls

(John Coolidge Adams)

Described by the composer as a “memory space” this piece of music written by John Adams was premiered in 2002 and deals with the September 11th 2001 terrorist attack on New York.  It was a commission by an un-named family in New York, The New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center’s Great Performers.

The piece features a trumpet section which is from The Unanswered Question by Charles Ives that asks “What is the meaning of life?” while the accompanying strings represent eternity.  The chorus and children’s choir, including the composer’s wife, children and several friends,  narrate and sing out quotes that were assembled from the “Missing Persons” signs that were posted after the event, and from the Portrait of Grief series in the New York Times.  A “soundscape” was designed that surrounds the audience with the pre-recorded sounds of the city and names of the victims being read out by different voices.

The composition has received 3 Grammy Awards for Best Classical Album, Best Orchestra Performance and Best Classical Contemporary Composition.  It also won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in music.

New York Philharmonic Recordings
Nonesuch 79816 (CD: On The Transmigration of Souls)
Chorus – New York Choral Artists
Chorus – Brooklyn Youth Chorus
Conductor – Lorin Maazel
Trumpet – Philip Smith
Boy Soprano – Preben Antonson