Acclaimed musical ensemble Alarm Will Sound performed the Western New York premiere of “Ten Thousand Birds” by John Luther Adams at Artpark on Sunday. The Lewiston venue is one of only two sites in the country to present the group for this special performance that utilizes social distancing for both the group of 20 musicians and the audience.
Alarm Will Sound surrounded the people siting and standing within the terrace area, performing nature sounds from a variety of places and on a number of instruments.
"Ten Thousand Birds" was written especially for AWS. The piece is based on the songs of birds that are native to, or migrate through the area in which the piece is performed. It explores the connections between nature and music – a topic that Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award-winner Adams has pursued over the course of his career. That’s also a common theme in Artpark's programming.
Artistic Director Alan Pierson often conducts AWS, but not with “Ten Thousand Birds.” He said, “It's such a thrill to get to be here with you all tonight. We in Alarm Will Sound have been playing together for nearly 20 years now, and all that kind of came to a halt back in March. These concerts are our first time playing together since the pandemic. And so, it's incredibly special and meaningful to us to be back here making music together and to be sharing that with all of you.
“The piece we're playing, ‘Ten Thousand Birds’ by John Luther Adams is, of course, as the name suggests, inspired by sounds of nature: sounds of birds, and of wind and of frogs; but it is really music that is for and about human beings. John composed the piece with the intention of making a space for people to connect with each other, and with the environment. And that is what we're hoping to do here with you all tonight.
“And for me, this is a very unusual experience, because usually I conduct the group; but we do this piece without a conductor, and so I get to join all of you and have that experience with all of you.”
AWS Executive Director Gavin Chuck added, “There's another aspect of this that comes to mind, which is that this piece, in particular, with John's music in general, is about listening to the landscape that you find yourself in. And we find ourselves in this landscape next to the river, in these words.”
He noted, “This piece is meant for the audience and the musicians to be moving around each other, to have a different perspective at all times on what's going on. It's almost as if you're walking through nature, and you come across a morning dove, or a frog – and in this case that morning dove might be a clarinet, or that frog might be a trombone – and we encourage you to move around the space there: all the three levels.”
In a press release, Adams explained, “At this difficult moment, it's more important than ever for us to remember our connections with the larger-than-human world, and to celebrate the never-ending music of the miraculous planet that is our one and only home.”
This concert was part of Artpark’s “Music in the Woods” series, which is made possible through the ArtsCONNECT program of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.
For more information on upcoming events or COVID-19 safety protocols, visit www.artpark.net.