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
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
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
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