The Wind in High Places is an elegant, haunting collection album containing three of John Luther Adams’s serenely powerful recent string works: (1) The Wind in High Places (2011), a three-movement string quartet commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Theodore Front Musical Literature, performed by JACK Quartet; (2) Canticles of the Sky, a four-movement piece for four cello choirs, performed by the 48-member Northwestern University Cello Ensemble, directed and conducted by Hans Jørgen Jensen; and (3) Dream of the Canyon Wren (2013), a single-movement string quartet written for and performed by JACK Quartet.
All three of these works share certain features: harmonies based in the overtone series, slowly changing polyrhythmic textures, and arch forms. Both of the string quartets are devilishly virtuosic, The Wind built solely from natural harmonics and open strings and Dream built from overlapping streams of glissandos.
As this ever-in-motion, ever-in-flux music unfolds, the listener is slowly taken up in a series of sonic waves that usually start from almost nothing and grow to great richness (increasing in density of instrumental voices and number of concurrent pitches), while often simultaneously shifting the piece’s or movement’s general tessitura (e.g., low and soft to high and loud or high and soft to low and loud). This sort of very natural-feeling wave motion may occur once per movement or a few times per movement, often reaching a very expressive sense of ecstasy at each crest.
“The Wind in High Places, a tripartite piece for string quartet that uses only natural harmonics and open strings—played extremely quietly—to create a still, pastoral ambience…. Could any new music be more delicately sparse, more wonderfully poetic? I think not.” —John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
“Adams’s latest release is a collection of three works for string ensembles… The first two pieces are truly captivating and wondrous, reaching an almost ambient feel at times, blending slow-moving tones and spaces into beautiful, tranquil vistas of iridescent light. All that changes on the closer, Dream of the Canyon Wren, which is a bit more avant-garde and experimental…. All taken, this is a radically distinctive collection of pieces that begs for repeat listens.”—Peter Thelan, Exposé