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From John Luther Adams to Mason Bates, Today's Composers "Do" the Environment

By James Inverne on Aug 01, 2013 02:22 AM EDT

Interesting report from our friends over at San Francisco Classical Voice--and good timing, following hard on the heels of Classicalite's own missive about Paul Walde and orchestra protesting at a new ski resort from atop a glacier.

The S.F. guys cite a recent study by Oxford University physicist Karen Aplin and Reading University atmospheric scientist Paul Williams--Oxford and Reading being just down the road from each other and often, ergo, sharing weather patterns--about weather as depicted in music.

And a whole environmental movement was discerned.

Environmental concerns were seen in works such as Scott Dean's Fire Music, an Australian piece born out of a close encounter with a bushfire (there's another piece by Dean about winter in Australia named Winter Songs, composed for the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet).

Also included: Laurie Anderson's Landfall (about the impact of Hurricane Sandy), Canadian composer Derek Charke's Cercle du Nord III (an arctic-themed piece composed for the Kronos Quartet) and many, many more.

SFCV local lad Mason Bates is cited in the article, too, for his climate change musings in Liquid Interface. As is John Luther Adams, seen as perhaps the father figure of environmentally-charged music.

"The weather and the landscape has been at the core of everything that I have done the last 40 years," Luther Adams has said. Newcomers to this other John Adams might try his Earth and the Great Weather, which he calls "a sonic geography of the Arctic."

In a wider sense, the links between music and the environment are also apparent. Classicalite readers should check out the photographic work of New York-based J. Henry Fair, long known as a leading photographer of classical musicians and, increasingly, as a documenter of terrains scarred by human negligence.

It is, one imagines, the very unmusicality of the acts of interrupting nature's age-old harmonies that so irk the musically minded. The act of harming the Earth is, apparently, an act of cultural vandalism, as well.

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TagsJames Inverne, San Francisco Classical Voice, Paul Walde, Oxford, Reading, Scott Dean, Laurie Anderson, Kronos Quartet, Derek Charke, Mason Bates, John Luther Adams, J. Henry Fair