Prom 66: In the Name of the Earth review – gargantuan praise for the planet

Royal Albert Hall, London
Three orchestral choruses and five London choirs united to slightly muddying effect for this performance of John Luther Adams’s hymn to the world

In many senses of the word, John Luther Adams’s compositions are about space, which he calls “the most fundamental element in my music”. It makes each of his pieces properly immersive, creating worlds that performers and audience can share, so that celebrating the Earth’s beauties while fearing for its future, the overriding preoccupations of Adams’s work, becomes a fully collective event. That seems more true than ever in his latest work to reach Europe. In the Name of the Earth, for multiple unaccompanied choirs, first performed last year in Central Park, New York, bathes its audience in choral sound, and invites them to join in its closing chorale.

It proposes, says Adams, “a kind of musical map-making and path-finding”. The text of the 45-minute piece is made up of names of features in the landscapes of North America in English, Spanish and indigenous languages – rivers and deserts, mountains and oceans, trees and geological formations. This litany is shouted, intoned and sung by the unaccompanied voices in overlapping strands, punctuated by rattles, scrapers and bells played by the singers, until towards the end, when all but one of the groups migrate to the front of the hall for the climactic chorale.

The Proms performance, given a Sunday morning to itself, involved 600 singers, with the choruses of three London orchestras joined by five other choirs from the capital, each with its own conductor. But though the groups were dispersed around the various levels of the Albert Hall, it wasn’t quite the all-encompassing experience that the piece implied. There were some imposing moments, but few words emerged from the mass of choral sound, so that the result was rather amorphous; perhaps taking part in such a gargantuan piece created the true collective experience, rather than listening to it.

The Proms continue until 14 September.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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