John Adams– On the Transmigration of Souls

9 September 2019

For many, attending a performance of John Addams’ new piece “On the Transmigration of Souls” written for the New York Philharmonic is like being invited to a party but being given the wrong address as a cruel prank. Early on, one realizes a mistake has been made, one grave enough to potentially ruin the entire evening.

All is not lost on this musical experiment, however, which presents itself as a rambling, rather over-zealous source of mockery. What makes it all so frustrating is that everything (save for the music) is perfect: the elegant setting of the auditorium, the acoustics, the warm tonal qualities of the instruments, and the pristine pitch of the Oregon Symphony Choir.

The piece, an orchestral homage to September 11, is intriguing in its nature but fails to lift itself from its initial melodramatics, languishing instead in its pretentious and overtly-modern filth. The precision of the symphony is undeniably honed, and although executed marvelously, “Transmigration” simply looms over one’s head, like a pinata which spills forth Brussel sprouts instead of candy.

If “On the Transmigration of Souls” teaches us anything, it is to find the humor in any scenario, no matter how disappointing; although this joke is on us, we are all afforded a hearty laugh in retrospect.

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