JL ADAMS everything that rises
Everything That Rises (2017) is John Luther Adams’s fourth string quartet, following close on the heels of untouched (2015). In a single unbroken movement, Everything That Rises is a satellite work from his huge choral-and-orchestral composition Sila: The Breath of the World (2014), constructed from a set of ‘harmonic clouds’ (to use the composer’s term) common to both works. Like Sila, and indeed the vast majority of his output, the quartet draws inspiration from nature, especially that of the composer’s native Alaska.
However, the expressive profile of Everything That Rises is very different from the earlier work, being essentially a vast, slow-moving spiral that moves, broadly, upwards in pitch from the opening cello pedal at a truly glacial pace. The harmonic language is neither tonal nor atonal, satisfying the requirements of the ‘harmonic clouds’ rather than traditional tonal structures, though to the innocent ear its unrelenting, droning dissonance may be challenging; there is nothing of the euphonious textures of, say, … and bells remembered … for chiming percussion (2005) or his orchestral tone poem The Light that Fills the World (1999-2000), nor the furious energy of the piano solo Among Red Mountains (2001).
The string quartet medium is traditionally one of dialogue between the four equal players but while there is a community of purpose in Everything That Rises I do not really hear the progress of the four independent lines as a dialogue, or even a discourse. The music is rather a phenomenon or force of nature, moving inexorably along its path with the listener relegated to a bystander. It does not make for comfortable listening, although it is mesmerising on its own terms. Nathaniel Reichman’s recording is beautifully clear, with depth.