America's greatest living composer turns to 9/11.

Pop, jazz, and classical.
Aug. 8 2002 1:04 PM

The Sept. 11 Symphony

Why New York asked composer John Adams to commemorate 9/11.

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The last movement, "Chain to the Rhythm," is in tune with America's present-day concerns, the digital revolution, and urban life. This is quintessential Adams: more layers of minimalist cells vying for control over one another as they attempt to negotiate percussive pop- and jazz-inspired syncopations until a surge of orchestral energy bursts out and mushrooms. Clarinet scales rise and fall rapidly, sounding like computer-speak. Trumpets shoot daggers of lean sound into the air. A confetti of notes with metallic timbres disperses at the apexes of sprightly rocketlike motives. And everything is scattered, confused, vulnerable even, as it races in its own direction as fast as it can.

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This, despite the worthy attempts of many other living composers, is the sound America has been searching for. It gets to the heart of what we as a country are now about, and it does so while captivating you the way only the most classic music can. Adams doesn't just refer to great classical composers of the past; he uses pop and jazz—and Copland, for that matter—to fuse the past with the present in a way that feels completely organic. Adams' music, unlike that of others who try to do what he does, sounds like someone's heart and soul. It's anti-academic. Unplanned. Visceral. And that, not his accolades from Carnegie Hall, his New York Philharmonic commission, or even his forthcoming appearance on ABC News, is the best news America has heard about new music in a long time.

Adam Baer is a culture critic for the New York Sun and contributor to the New York Times Book Review, Travel + Leisure, and Slate, among other publications.