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Last Updated: Monday, 4 August, 2003, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
The Transmigration of Souls
John Adams
Newsnight Review discussed John Adams's On The Transmigration of Souls.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review taken from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight Review.)

Germaine, it was a heck of a commission. Does he have any chance of being successful?

I don't think so, frankly. First of all, the experience hasn't gelled. We haven't got the distance. We don't understand its significance really. We haven't got any kind of objective correlative for it and the very worst way of approaching it in my view was to make it a kind of souvenir of 9/11. Here are the names, here are the this and that. The musical structure isn't dense enough. There isn't a tone or a pulse that comes out of it that becomes the sound of that moment. He is supposed to be a minimalist composer. The difficulty when you have tunes in and when you start mixing it up, and encrusting it¿it's all things added on to a basically very uninteresting idea. The original idea just wasn't good enough.

Mark, the idea of being direct about contemporary events is something that he has done very well, particularly in The Death of Klinghoffer. Here it's difficult but at least naming the names made people aware of what had happened. Did you salute that?

I had a problem with the naming of names. I actually think the music is very good. I think the music did have a form, structure, identity and a character. I think the problem is that he was so worried about doing anything in the words that would offend people; somehow using the words which people wrote on walls themselves, the names of people, seems justified, it seems honest, it seems like it has integrity and it does have all of those things. What it doesn't actually have is any kind of artistic validity and that's the problem. I think the music itself stands up but the libretto falls down because it's trying so hard not to offend.

Peter, does it have a transformative or spiritual aspect?

No, that's what it lacks; it felt very empty to me. When it was called the memory space I think that's about right. I really don't think you can approach this kind of thing without any kind of religious content. It has to offer hope to those who've been bereaved and make some meaning out of the deaths involved. This did not. It just continued the feeling of chaos and loss and I don't think it succeeded in its main purpose. As I say, it just felt empty and without any real ultimate purpose.

Mark, were you moved by it?

I was moved by it musically but I have to say that the words constantly bothered me because I constantly could imagine them being put there because of their authenticity rather than their artistic validity.

I wasn't moved by it at all. I was the driest eye in the house.

The slow movement of the Haydn Symphony earlier in the evening was much more powerful.

The Haydn Symphony was an extraordinary contrast, wasn't it? It was wonderful.


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