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An Atlas of Deep Time (2022)
for orchestra
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Commissioned by and dedicated to the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra for its Centennial Anniversary.

“An ever-changing scheme of superimposed tempos conveys the complexity of geological layering. The harmony, likewise, is governed by mutating stacks of intervals. At the midpoint of each “range” section, the chords assume a snow-capped tonal grandeur. The ‘basins’ are interludes of tremulous repose, with bursts of drumming breaking through shimmery string textures….In a famous passage in ‘My Antonía,’ [Willa] Cather contemplated the unending vistas of the plains and wrote of the joy of being ‘dissolved into something complete and great.’ The sounding immensity of ‘An Atlas of Deep Time’ afforded the same uncanny pleasure.”—Alex Ross, The New Yorker

Become Desert (2017)
for large orchestra and chorus
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Recorded on Cantaloupe Music

Commissioned by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, with co-commissions from the San Diego Symphony and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra

“While Become Desert doesn’t have the easily graspable transitions of its predecessor [Become Ocean], it is packed with moments of drama in microcosm. Over a nearly 40-minute span, those slight twists combine to create a new route toward a grand impact.[…] A vast expanse of heartbreak was surveyed in mere seconds, from the vantage of a vessel that barely had to hum to switch gears.”—Seth Colter Walls, The New York Times

“Compared to ‘Become Ocean,’ ‘Become Desert’ is a study in stupefying stillness. High string harmonics reminded me of the relentless sun. In real life, Adams is often seen wearing a hat. But in this music, there is no protection from aural ultraviolet light. Rustling sounds are like insects or plucked cactus or shifting sand. After a long while, you begin to lose a sense of reality, the shimmer stimulating aural mirages.”—Mark Swed, The Los Angeles Times

“Mahler may take us to the heavens, for example, but who else in the history of composition has so masterfully set us down in the middle of nature, and then enabled us to discover the divine in every sound?”—Jason Victor Serinus, Classical Voice North America

Ten Thousand Birds (2014)
for chamber orchestra (fl, ob, 2 cl, bsn, hn, tpt, tbn, 2 perc, pno/cel, 2 vlns, vla, vc, cb)
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Commissioned by Alarm Will Sound

Sila: The Breath of the World (2013)
for five ensembles, performing individually or together, in any combination
winds (6,4,4,2), brass (4, 6, 4, 2), voices (6,6,2,2), 16 percussion, strings (3, 3, 4, 4, 2)
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Commissioned by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Washington Performing Arts,
Ojai Festival, Cal Performances and the La Jolla Symphony

“Over the plashing sound of the terraced waterfalls, framed by thickets of yellow irises, came the lowering rumble of timpani. Cutting through the hum of voices and street traffic and bird song was the gleam of brass instruments: the bright flare of a trumpet and the curl of a trombone, unfolding at first single notes, then fragments, then shining arpeggios that rose and gilded the edges of the cool evening…giving voice to an environment, gently amplifying what the world might be trying to say… ”—Ann Midgette, The Washington Post

Become Ocean (2013)
for large orchestra
(3 fl, 3 ob, 3 cl, 3 bsn, 4 hn, 3 tpt, 3 tbn, tba, timp, 3 perc, 2 hp, pno, strings)
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Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Music
2014 Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Classical Composition”

Commissioned by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra

Recorded on Cantaloupe Music

Become River (2010)
for chamber orchestra (2 fl – dbl. piccs, 2 ob, 2 cl, 2 bsn, 2 hn, 2 tpt, 2 tbn, 2 perc, strings)
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Commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra

The Light Within (orchestra version) (2010)
for orchestra and electronic sounds – (picc, ob, 2 clnt/bs clnt, bsn/cbsn, hn, tpt, bs tbn, tba, timp, bd, tt, vibes/crots, pno, hp, strings, recorded tracks)
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Commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra

Dark Waves (2007)
for orchestra and electronic sounds – (2 picc, 2 obs, 2 clnts, cb clnt, 2 bsns, contrabsn, 2 hns, 2 tpts, 2 tbns, bs tbn, tba, bs drum, susp cym, orch bells, 2 vibr, celesta, piano, strings, recorded tracks)
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Commissioned by Music Nova for the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra

“Together, the orchestra and the electronics evoke a vast rolling sea. Waves of Perfect Fifths rise and fall, in tempo relationships of 3, 5 and 7. At the central moment, these waves crest together in a tsunami of sound encompassing all twelve chromatic tones and the full range of the orchestra.”—Mike Dunham, Anchorage Daily News

for Lou Harrison (2003)
for string quartet, two pianos and strings (minimum 2-2-2-1)
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Recorded on New World Records

“It opened with a riveting gesture, in which all the instruments swept upward through their full ranges in huge, lush arpeggios at different tempos, settling at last into a calm chord. That gesture came back again and again and again, initiating each new phrase of the piece. For an hour several rhythmic levels flowed in contradiction to each other, the string quartet launching into a new crescendo while the orchestra was still, the pianos booming into new arpeggios as the string quartet was still, some lines doubled in unison but otherwise hardly any two levels of activity ever at the same speed… At last the rhythmic levels dropped out one by one, and the piece died away with a radiant pp chord in the orchestral violins.”  Kyle Gann, PostClassic

The Light That Fills the World (1999-2000/revised 2015)
for orchestra – (picc, 2 flts, 3 obs, 3 clnts, 2bsns, contrabsn, 4 hns, 2 tpts, 2 tbns, tba, timp, susp cymb, vibr, mar, strings)
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“…Adams… likes to explore a single sonic and find the teeming life inside… this 12-minute piece of shifting, crackling timbres had a burning intensity.” —Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

“…a mesmerizing Transcendentalist tone poem that shimmers with myriad orchestral colors… Adams suspends motion without putting his audience to sleep. Hearing this piece was not unlike pondering a Byzantine icon, focusing on gorgeous details while still appreciating the mystery of the whole.” —Kenneth Herman, San Diego Arts

“…a fascinatingly primal work…” —Valerie Scher,

“John Luther Adams, in his The Light That Fills the World, keeps all the orchestra in play, sections changing chords in nonsynchronous patterns for an always-shifting color formula. Everyone contributes to the group energy, no one counts rests, and every role is more or less equivalent.” —Kyle Gann, The Village Voice

In the White Silence (1998)
for celesta, harp, string quartet, 2 vibraphones, and string orchestra (min 2-2-2-2-2)
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Recorded on New World Records

“… the music moves across its vast duration with an untroubled serenity. Shifting clusters in the vibratoless string orchestra form the cushion over which the trio and the quartet solo. The trio plays arpeggiated figures that evoke bells of various sorts. The string quartet has virtually all the melodies in the work, which are inevitably slow moving and somewhat yearningly lovely…” —John Story, Fanfare

“… a highly intellectual and deeply sensual work… The mix of beauty and brutality correctly reflects the northern landscape the work depicts… the aching tension, unease and sense of danger that laces through its sonorities.” —Mike Dunham, Anchorage Daily News

Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing (1991-95)
for chamber orchestra (2 flts – dbl. piccs, 2 clnts – 2nd dbl. bass, 2 hns, tpt, bass tbn, 2 perc, cel, pno, 2 vlns, vla, vlc, cb)
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Recorded on New World Records

“…a ruminative tapestry of arresting beauty… a vast space filled with shimmering textures and tintinnabulary outbursts.” —Allan Ulrich, The San Francisco Examiner

“…hypnotic, mesmerizing. You felt as if should you have to move, you’d best do it in slow motion, so as to not break the fragile bubble surrounding you. Shift languidly, as if under water, so that you do not risk disturbing the surface while you listen to eerie clang and muffled beat of water slapping at boats moored… somewhere.” —Carol Furtwangler, Charleston Post and Courier

Sauyatugvik: The Time of Drumming  (1995)
for orchestra (picc, 2 flts, 3 obs, 3 clnts, 2 bsns, cbsn, 4 hns, 3 tpts, 2 tbns, bass tbn, tba, timp, 4 perc, 2 pnos, strings)
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Commissioned by the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra

“The Time of Drumming demands that an entire orchestra pound the sound into the back wall of the hall… For inspiration, Adams turned to the Yup’ik drumming he has admired since moving to Alaska twenty years ago, and cross-fertilized it with the brute orchestral force of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring'”. —Mike Dunham, Anchorage Daily News

“engrossing and irresistible” —Daniel Cariaga, The Los Angeles Times

Dream In White On White  (1992)
string quartet, harp (or piano) and strings (minimum 2-2-2-2-1)
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Recorded on New Albion Records

“…austere, Nordic textures…landscape-obsessed forms…rich, indistinct sonorities…images you can’t forget.” —Kyle Gann, The Village Voice

“…contemplative…glacially slow…a frigid counterpart to the warm and popular Symphony No. 3 of Gorecki.” —Mark Mobley, Virginia Pilot/Ledger Star

The Far Country of Sleep  (1988)
for orchestra (2 flts, 2 obs, 2 clnts, 2 bsns, 2 hns, 2 tpts, tbn, 2 perc/harp/strings – minimum 6-6-4-4-2).   15:45
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Commissioned by the Arctic Chamber Orchestra

Recorded on New Albion Records

“…a ravishingly beautiful landscape…” —Alan Ulrich San Francisco Examiner

“…wondrous soundscapes of place and the imagination. I can’t remember when a new piece of music has been as thought-provoking as The Far Country of Sleep.” —Marilyn Tucker, The San Francisco Chronicle

A Northern Suite (1979-80 / 2004)
for orchestra (2 flts – 1st dbl. picc, 2 obs – 2nd dbl. E hn, 2 clnts, 2 bsns, 4 hns, 2 tpts, 2 tbns, hp, pno/cel, 3 perc, strings)
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Commissioned by the Arctic Chamber Orchestra