The Midwest premiere of “Sila: The Breath of the World,” a work by John Luther Adams that was written to be performed outdoors, will kick off a yearlong series of public events to celebrate the Northwestern University Bienen School of Music’s new Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts.
The building, designed by Chicago-based Goettsch Partners and located on the shore of Lake Michigan on Northwestern’s Evanston campus, includes performance and rehearsal spaces, teaching studios, classrooms, practice rooms and faculty and staff offices.
The Ryan Center for the Musical Arts will hold its opening concert Adams’ “Sila: The Breath of the World,” which will be performed by 80 musicians from the Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble,Contemporary Music Ensemble and Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra, at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, and 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, on the south lawn of the Ryan Center, 70 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston campus.
The hourlong work, performed without a conductor, premiered at New York’s Lincoln Center last summer and is designed to gradually dissolve into the larger sonic landscape of its location. Each of the 80 musicians is a soloist with an individual “map” indicating the exact pitch and the approximate time to play. A smartphone application, developed specifically for this piece, generates the pitches and includes a stopwatch.
Winner of the 2010 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition from Northwestern University and the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Music, John Luther Adams is joining students for the first week of classes to prepare the piece.
Donald Nally, professor and director of choral organizations at the Bienen School, is music director of the project, and percussionist Doug Perkins of eighth blackbird, a multiple Grammy Award-winning contemporary music sextet based in Chicago, will serve as artistic director.
Of “Sila,” the composer writes: "In Inuit tradition, the spirit that animates all things is sila, the breath of the world. Sila is the wind and weather, the forces of nature.”
“The work is essentially a slowly evolving, rising, transparent cloud of sound generated by the breath of each performer,” explained Nally. “Audience members experience the work surrounded by the musicians — they may sit, stand or wander — creating their own evolving environment for the work, which is a beautiful meditation on the natural world and our place in it. It’s a different way of thinking about music, and I thought this was the perfect piece to consecrate the new music building.”