Dutch premiere of Adams' Prophecies of Stone

Interview with pianist Ralph van Raat

American composer John Luther Adams draws his inspiration from nature: from landscapes, snow plains, tundra, deserts and the ocean. On Friday, Dec. 1, Ralph van Raat, the specialist in newly written piano works, will play the Dutch premiere of Adam's Piano Concerto "Prophecies of Stone."An incredibly monumental work!"

Pianist and musicologist Ralph van Raat has been a regular guest at the
Residentie Orkest . Just a few years ago, he performed the world premiere of a newly discovered work by Ton de Leeuw. On December 1, he will be the soloist in the brand new Piano Concerto "Prophecies of Stone" by American composer John Luther Adams (1953). "This piece is about his admiration for nature and especially the mountain landscapes in Alaska, where he lived and worked for many years. He depicts the grandeur, the immeasurable and perhaps inhuman grandeur of those huge mountain ranges and the futility you feel as a human being in the process. Those mountains are symbolized by monumental pillars of sound that take up a lot of time and space. Such a tapestry of sound forces you as a listener to surrender to it and respect it."

Inhumanly beautiful
Adams has given his new piano concerto four movements. "The first movement depicts the extraordinarily special phenomenon of rock points emerging from under the snowy landscape," Ralph van Raat tells us. "You only see a small piece, underneath is much more. That also says something about the foundation of the rock below. The second part is about layering, inspired by a ridge on the northern Arctic Ocean. Several independent rhythmic layers on top of each other offer an imposing interplay. It is really the same as with those mountains there, all irregular and individual but together forming a unity. The Cold Mountain movement deals with the beauty of a cold, inhospitable mountaintop with all the loneliness, splendor and melancholy that comes with it. The final movement depicts stone monuments built by the Inuit, stone sculptures that serve a particular role such as signage or deliver spiritual messages. Adams really expresses his admiration for nature in this work. The music is almost inhumanly beautiful. There are bursts but you always return to stillness."

"This piece is monumental and very evocative. Adams' landscapes are so powerfully painted in sound that it conjures up lots of images of impressive natural scenes. You will definitely take that home with you"

- Ralph van Raat

Of course, Van Raat has performed works by John Luther Adams (pictured Donald Lee) before. "I think his music is incredibly good. It is a composer with a very own language that is very current, precisely because he is busy making us aware of the beauty of nature and that we have to be careful with it. He has a unique voice with a very interesting fusion between all kinds of genres. Yes he often writes for a classical symphony orchestra but the sounds he manages to get out of it are precisely not traditional and often transcend the familiar orchestral sounds. An absolutely transgressive composer with real music of today in which everyone can recognize themselves."

Part of the creative process
When asked whether it is easier to perform music by composers who are still living or not, Van Raat had to think for a moment. "It is different, of course. It's exciting to perform music by contemporary composers because they have a lot to do with today and you recognize a lot in that. And you can call the composer and you have little to no historical ballast that other piano concertos carry. People often have an idea in their head of what, for example, a piano concerto by Ravel should sound like, and you as a performer may or may not conform to that. And that is not so with contemporary music because you are much more part of the creative process, you are the first medium through which the listener hears such a piece. You are also important in that sense because you can make or break a piece then. This new piano concerto by Adams will be fantastic anyway, the world premiere with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra was a great success and I am looking forward to the Dutch premiere with the Residentie Orkest."

Come hear the Dutch premiere of the Piano Concerto "Prophecies of Stone" on Dec. 1.