Arctic Dreams

“This is a wholly distinctive kind of minimalism that John Luther Adams has made his own. Synergy Vocals, known for their recordings of Steve Reich and Arvo Part, are joined by violinist Robin Lorentz, violist Ron Lawrence, cellist Michael Finckel, and bassist Robert Black. As the climate change movement grows in strength, it has its soundtrack ready-made.”

—Richard Fairman, Financial Times (UK)

The music

Arctic Dreams is a seven-section work scored for four singers and four string players, enhanced with three layers of digital delay that create 32-part canonic textures.

Composer John Luther Adams writes:

Arctic Dreams was the first music I composed in my “aeolian” sound world, which grew out of my experiences listening to wind harps on the tundra. It is scored for four string players, four singers, and three layers of digital delay.  

“The harmonies of this music arise from the first seven odd-numbered harmonics above the low D of the double bass. Extensive retuning of the strings is employed, with only the C string of the cello at its usual pitch. As in several of my later string quartets, all the string sounds are produced by natural harmonics, or open strings.

“The sung text is a series of “Arctic Litanies,” composed of the names of Arctic places, plants, birds, weather, and seasons, in the languages of the Iñupiat and Gwich’in peoples of Alaska.

“The digital delays create a virtual choir and string orchestra in 32-part canonic textures, with delay times ranging from 1.125 to 32 seconds.

Arctic Dreams is dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Barry Lopez, and is titled after one of his greatest books.”

The performers

Synergy Vocals, a critically acclaimed British vocal ensemble, has recorded music by Steve Reich, Louis Andriessen, David Lang, Luciano Berio, Steven Mackey, John Adams, Arvo Pärt and numerous other composers and performed with the Boston and Chicago Symphonies and the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics, as well as many other major orchestras and chamber ensembles. Their performances have been deemed “amazing” (New York Times); “beautiful, haunting” and “wonderfully transparent” (Gramophone); “exquisite” (Financial Times), “Superb” (The Guardian), and “dazzling” (The Observer). (synergyvocals.com) The members of Synergy performing Arctic Dreams are sopranos Micaela Haslam and Amanda Morrison, alto Heather Cairncross, and bass Simon Grant.

Violinist Robin Lorentz is champion of contemporary music who spent over 20 years with the noted new music group California E.A.R. Unit. As a soloist and chamber musician, she has premiered many works, including John Adams’s Road Movies for violin and piano at the Kennedy Center and Yusef Lateef’s String Quartet Number 1: Bismillah at REDCAT, and she has been featured on tours by composers Terry Riley and John Luther Adams. Lorentz has recorded for New Albion, Cold Blue Music (appearing on six previous Cold Blue CDs), New World, O.O. Discs, Sony, MCA, Columbia, and Echograph and performed as soloist and small ensemble member on recordings by Bob Dylan, Scott Weiland, and T-Bone Burnett. She has served as concertmaster with the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella series, the Ojai Festival, Santa Fe Pro Musica, and numerous other festivals and ensembles.

Violist Ron Lawrence: From John Adams to John Zorn, Lawrence has performed and recorded with many of new music’s most exciting personalities. Besides being a founding member of the Sirius Quartet, he has performed extensively with Cuartetango, Quartet Indigo, the Soldier String Quartet, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Other collaborators include Anthony Braxton, John Blake, Bob Beldon, Anthony Davis, Regina Carter, Elliott Sharp, James Blood Ulmer, Cassandra Wilson, John Cale, Fred Hersch, and Eumir Deodato. Further uptown, he has recorded with Kathleen Battle, Robert Craft, John Cage, and André Previn. One of Ron’s most exciting projects was a journey to Alaska to record John Luther Adams’s multimedia spectacular, Earth and the Great Weather—A Sonic Geography of the Arctic. Despite a rigorous performance schedule, he was able to break away each evening to cross-country ski under the northern lights.

Cellist Michael Finckel is a member of the Cabrini Quartet, Finckel Cello Quartet, and Brooklyn Philharmonic. He is a former member of Steve Reich and Musicians, Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, Ensemble 21, Eberli Ensemble, and Ysaye Quartet, and the former principal cello of the Vermont State Symphony, Orchestra of Our Time, and Bethlehem Bach Festival Orchestra. He has appeared as soloist with the Vermont State Symphony, Utica Symphony, Syracuse Symphony, and Sage City Symphony, and in performances under Pierre Boulez (New York Philharmonic Rug Concert series). He has recorded for the ECM, New World, CRI, Dorian, Deutsche Grammophon, Nonesuch, Candide, and Opus 1 labels, and has been music director of the Sage City Symphony since 1991.

Double bassist Robert Black tours the world creating music for the solo double bass and collaborating with the composers, musicians, dancers, artists, actors, and technophiles. He is a founding and current member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars. His current collaborative projects include a sound/video installation reflecting on the Anthropocene with sound artists Brian House and Sue Huang, filmed at the Freshkills landfill (NYC), and Blued Trees Project, an outdoor, environmental installation/performance for 24 double basses exploring the tension between ecocidal fossil fuel policies and the drive for the common good expressed by environmental justice movements with environmental artist Aviva Rahmani, composer Eve Beglarian, and choreographer Yoshiko Chuma. Black’s solo recordings include Philip Glass’s The Not-Doings of an Insomniac and Bass Partita and Poetry (Orange Mountain Music), Black’s own Possessed (Cantaloupe Records), Modern American Bass (New World Records), Christian Wolff: Look She Said (Complete Works for Bass), Giacinto Scelsi: The Works for Double Bass (Mode Records), and State of the Bass (O.O. Discs).