“Sila: The Breath of the World” by 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner John Luther Adams premiered at Lincoln Center July 25, 2014.
“Sila” is an Inupiaq word similar to Yup’ik “Cella” or “Ella,” meaning the universe expressed as a conscious personality.
“Anastasia Tsioulcas describes ‘the quiet, deeply contemplative nature of Adams’ elegantly wrought and mesmerizing work’ in the following report.
“Sila is a piece intended to be played by 16 to 80 or more musicians grouped into five separate ensemble choirs of woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings and voices, who may perform the work in any combination, either simultaneously or successively. There is no conductor, and each musician chooses his or her own pacing through the score, as long as each sustained tone or rising phrase “lasts the length of one full exhalation,” according to Adams’ notes.
The piece is set within 16 “harmonic clouds” grounded on the first sixteen overtones of a low B-flat… The music shimmers and shifts in magical and beautiful ways. And Sila is as much performance piece as sonic work. The long, luxurious phrases were underscored by choreographer Mark DeChiazza, who had the performers make slow, sweeping tai chi-like gestures that seemed to halt time.
The composer translates the Inuit title of the piece this way: “Sila is the wind and the weather, the forces of nature. But it’s also something more. Sila is intelligence. It’s consciousness. It’s our awareness of the world around us, and the world’s awareness of us.” Even with the buzz of Manhattan so close, Adams and his musicians created a work of music, and of theater, that encouraged listeners to look both deeply inward and out into an imaginary expanse far beyond Hearst Plaza.
Sila ends with performers blowing through megaphones — no notes sounding, just long exhalations of breath you had to lean in closely to hear. Just as Saturday’s performance was drawing to its close, a breeze visited, creating new waves of ripples in the pool.”