Music in Time

Music in Time and John Kennedy

In 2002, John Adams won the Pulitzer Prize for Music. This year, John Luther Adams won. Both composers (unrelated, at least genetically) are featured at this year's Spoleto Festival USA. John Adams is the composer of the opera "El Nino." John Luther Adams, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer for his piece "Become Ocean," is the composer whose work leads off the 2014 contemporary music series, Music in Time.

John Luther Adams' work was first performed at Spoleto in 1988, when he was 35 and still an up-and-coming composer.

"He even slept on a dorm room floor here in Charleston because he was so excited to have his music done at a major festival," said John Kennedy, the festival's resident conductor and director of orchestral activities.

This year the Music in Time series, held in the College of Charleston's Simons Center Recital Hall, begins by highlighting two relatively recent works by Adams: "The Light Within" (2007) and "Four Thousand Holes" (2010). Also on the program is the premiere of a new work by Kennedy.

On the heels of Adams' recent Pulitzer Prize win, there can be no better time to revisit this composer's work. Kennedy already had programmed the concert by the time the Pulitzer announcement came in April.

"He's a composer with a voice," Kennedy said. "I just thought it was time again that we heard his music here."

Adams' "The Light Within" was inspired by James Turrell's 1999 installation art piece "The Light Inside." In the same way that Turrell uses light to transform space, Adams uses sound to create color and to play with time.

"Because he makes harmonic change happen so slowly, one can almost hear how colors change," Kennedy said.

Adams, an Alaska resident and lifelong environmental activist, is heavily influenced by the natural world. On his website, he wrote that by "deepening our awareness of our connections to the earth, music can provide a sounding model for the renewal of human consciousness and culture." His musical inspirations have come from birdsong, landscapes, "elemental noise and beyond."

In the 32-minute "Four Thousand Holes," Adams uses piano, mallet percussion and electronics to create a shimmery, glacial soundscape of major and minor triads.

"Approaching these simple chords as found objects, I've superimposed them in multiple streams of tempo, to create darker harmonies and lush fields of sound," Adams wrote. "As we settle into the sound, we begin to hear long lines, counterpoint, and maybe even the occasional trace of a tune."

The concert will also feature the premiere of John Kennedy's new work, "Inequalities."

"I'm playing with a lot of different ideas, including inequalities in musical structure and time, the inequalities between the piano and percussion, and the abstract notion of inequality in the world today," Kennedy said.

Kennedy composed "Inequalities" for the pianist Conor Hanick and the percussionist George Nickson.

"They're two people, young artists, who I really believe in, who've been with the festival in the past and who are really incredible interpreters of contemporary music," Kennedy said.

The rest of the Music in Time series features composers from Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the U.S. The second program will feature "Schnee (Snow)" a 2008 piece by the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen. This piece, composed for nine musicians, also was inspired by nature and time.

In the third program, Hanick will return to present the rarely performed "Territoires de l'oubli" by the French composer Tristan Murail. He will be joined again by the percussionist George Nickson for performances of new and recent works by the young American composers Nico Muhly and David Fulmer.

The series will conclude on June 5 with a performance of the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen's "De volharding (Perseverance)" (1972) in celebration of his 75th birthday.

Sarah Hope is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.