Become River

John Luther Adams
Composed 2012-2013

World Premiere
April 3-5, 2014
Steven Schick, conductor
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John Luther Adams on Become River
Composer John Luther Adams discusses the relationship between Become River and his Pulitzer-winning Become Ocean.
John Luther Adams

Steven Schick and I were having dinner together. I was just beginning work on a large-scale piece for the Seattle Symphony. So when Steve asked me if I might be interested in composing a new piece for The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, I must have hesitated.

Deftly, Steve asked me to tell him a little about the Seattle piece.

I went on at length about the music I’d begun to imagine, finally concluding:

“It’s called Become Ocean. The title comes from a poem that John Cage wrote in honor of Lou Harrison.”

Cage observed that the breadth and variety of Harrison’s music make it “resemble a river in delta.” He concluded that:

                                LiStening to it
                           we becOme

“So you’re already composing a symphonic ocean,” Steve said. “Maybe for a smaller orchestra you could go ahead and compose that river in delta.”

Steve had me, and I knew it. Within a week I’d begun work on Become River.

From a single high descending line, this music gradually expands into a delta of melodic streams flowing toward the depths.

I now imagine this river and its related ocean, as part of a larger series of pieces encompassing desert, mountain, tundra, and perhaps other landscapes and waterscapes.

John Luther Adams ©2013