Getting down to Earth at the Proms with composer John Luther Adams
05 September, 2019 — By Michael White
John Luther Adams’ In the Name of the Earth is performed on Sunday September 8
The Albert Hall Proms are a standard platform for immodestly outsized events, but they don’t often come as big as the one this Sunday – which involves 600 singers from eight different choirs (among them North London’s own Crouch End Festival Chorus) and ad hoc participation from anybody in the audience who feels like turning up early for a quick rehearsal.
The piece is called In the Name of the Earth, and it’s a celebration of the natural environment by the American composer John Luther Adams (not to be confused with the better-known John Adams who composed Nixon in China).
With a text based on the names of mountains, glaciers and rivers in assorted languages, this massive score – which runs continuously for 50 minutes – is like a David Attenborough TV campaign done live, with music filling in for images. And Luther Adams has, in the past, been a full-time environmentalist, politically engaged and passionate.
He’s still political but says that music now comes first for him, because “politics is about power, whereas art concerns beauty and truth; creative thought, new ways of thinking, that’s how change originates”.Ironically, when In the Name of the Earth was scheduled for its open-air premiere last year in New York’s Central Park, the Earth decided to be uncooperative – with foul weather that meant the performance had to be hastily removed to the Cathedral of St John the Divine.
For this European Premiere no one’s taking any chances and keeping the whole thing under cover. Which is probably as well. It’s a morning concert, starting 11am on Sunday September 8. But if you want the chance to join some of the singing you need to be there at the Albert Hall for instruction at 10.40am.
If nothing else, it will be an event. And as always with the Proms, it’s broadcast live on Radio 3. Details: bbc.co.uk/proms
Other Prom highlights this week
Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique is one of the most familiar orchestral works going. But it’s unlikely that you’ll have ever experienced it as you can at the Proms next Thursday (September 12) when it gets staged with lighting, design, choreography and words narrating Berlioz’s life and his neurotic fantasies – including vivid evocations of a witches’ sabbath and a frankly terrifying march to the gallows.
The young, dynamic Aurora Orchestra will play the score from memory (their usual party trick) under conductor Nicholas Collon. And the show fits in with one of this year’s Prom themes, which is a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death.
Anticipating a run on tickets, it plays twice, at 7pm and 10.15pm at the Albert Hall. The earlier performance is broadcast live on Radio 3. The later gets filmed for a BBCFour transmission on September 13. bbc.co.uk/proms