Adam Schoenberg: Losing Earth
BORN: November 15, 1980. Northampton, MA. Currently living in Los Angeles, CA
COMPOSED: 2018-19. Commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director, with support from Mr. Kevin Osinski and Mr. Marc Sinykin, and additional support provided by Ms. Claudine Cheng and the Jessie Cheng Charitable Foundation
WORLD PREMIERE: At these concerts
INSTRUMENTATION: Solo percussion, 3 flutes (2nd and 3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling English horn), 3 clarinets in B-flat (2nd doubling E-flat clarinet, 3rd doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets (1st and 2nd doubling piccolo trumpet), 2 trombones and bass trombone, tuba, timpani, 6 percussion (Percussion 1: xylophone, vibraphone, temple blocks, bongos, tin cans, tam‐tam, bass drum, roto sound cymbal; Percussion 2: vibraphone, marimba, Thai nipple gongs, tin cans, ratchet, snare drum, bass drum, Paiste roto sound cymbal; Percussion 3: glockenspiel, vibraphone, bass drum, guiro, Paiste roto sound cymbal; Percussion 4, 5, and 6: graduated bass drums and Paiste roto sound cymbals), harp, piano, electric bass, and strings
DURATION: About 23 mins
THE BACKSTORY For starters, composer Adam Schoenberg is not related to fellow transplant Los Angeles transplant Arnold Schoenberg. But in the last decade Adam Schoenberg has blazed his own impressive trail, composing award-winning film scores, completing commissions for major orchestras, and twice being named among the top ten most performed living composers by orchestras in the United States. He graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Juilliard School, where he studied with Robert Beaser and John Corigliano. (Juilliard was also where he first met SFS Principal Percussion Jacob Nissly.) Several accolades followed: ASCAP’s Morton Gould Young Composer Award for his orchestra work Finding Rothko; the Palmer‐Dixon Prize from the Juilliard School; the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts & Letters; and the MacDowell Fellowship in both 2009 and 2010. Schoenberg has been composer‐in‐residence with the Fort Worth Symphony, Lexington Philharmonic, Kansas City Symphony, Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University, and the Aspen Music Festival and School’s M.O.R.E Music Program. He is currently a professor at Occidental College, where he runs the composition and film scoring programs.
Schoenberg has enjoyed productive partnerships with a number of American orchestras, earning commissions from the Atlanta Symphony, Kansas City Symphony (Picture Studies, nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition in 2018), the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Aspen Music Festival and School, and Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería and the Louisiana Philharmonic. For violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and the San Diego Symphony he wrote the violin concerto Orchard in Fog, and he composed a wind symphony for Jerry Junkin and the University of Texas Wind Ensemble.
Also an accomplished and versatile film composer, Schoenberg participated in the 2017 Sundance Composers Lab, and he has scored two feature‐length films and several shorts. Highlights include the recent Emmy-winner for Best Musical Composition, That Far Corner: Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Angeles, and Graceland, co‐written with his father, Steven Schoenberg, which premiered at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival and received its nationwide theatrical release in the spring of 2013. He also co‐composed the new theme package for ABC’s Nightline.
The composer offers the following comments on Losing Earth:
On August 1, 2018, the New York Times Magazine published ‘Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change,’ by Nathaniel Rich. After reading this haunting article, I could feel myself becoming fearful of our future. Of what was to come. We’ve been aware of global warming for quite some time, but I was suddenly beginning to wonder how this would ultimately affect my children. Would they survive? Would the earth survive?
When I was first commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony to write this piece, I began to think about the history of percussion and how it can be traced back to the beginning of time. It is the most earthy and grounded of instruments, and in many cultures is considered to be the heartbeat of music. With the ability to make rhythm, keep time, and create melody, drums were a way for our ancestors to communicate love and joy, danger and survival. They have also traditionally been at the center of oral history, with percussionists being the storytellers. Second only to the human voice, this instrument has watched the earth endure all its phases, including the devastation that is now beginning to emerge because of global warming. Losing Earth pays homage to this history.
THE MUSIC The piece begins with a march that is meant to represent our mundane day-to-day existence; the experiences that we inevitably take for granted, as we become absorbed in our daily lives. But as the march progresses, disruptions begin to occur. These rhythmic breaks represent the natural occurrences and/or disasters that are affecting our cities and towns on a daily basis. Living in Southern California, we experience about 10,000 earthquakes every year, most of which go completely unnoticed until they reach a certain magnitude. Our endless sunny days seem to now idle somewhere between extreme heat/drought and torrential downpours. And in the past few years we have been plagued by countless brushfires that have devastated many of our coastal communities beyond repair. Only when nature begins alerting us to the problem, are we suddenly forced to stop and finally pay attention.
After the march‐like section comes to a screeching halt, we enter the second section of the piece, which represents the inevitable loss of our beloved coastline. With our sea levels quickly rising, will the majority of this land be under water in a couple of decades? Will the cliffs of Santa Monica suddenly become beachfront property? I wanted to create a movement that captured what it would be like if Mother Nature reclaimed our beaches, and we all simply faded into the ocean. The vibraphone sets up a slow, oscillating world that is meant to reflect a sense of being underwater. This is a very atmospheric and dreamy section, featuring multiple string divisions and gentle winds and brass.
As the second section comes to an end, a dark texture slowly emerges and helps transition us to the third and final section of the concerto. This represents the imminent call to action that is needed in order to try and save our world. We’ve already lost so much time, but if we have any hope of repairing what exists, then we must take immediate action.
Section three is the “scherzo” of the concerto and is super fast, featuring highly virtuosic mallet writing with simultaneous kick drum, temple blocks, granite blocks, and other wood and metal. The music is both relentless and aggressive. But like all of my music, I strive to create a sense of hope and optimism towards the end. A somewhat pop‐oriented chord progression and groove emerges, and a number of intertwining melodies enter soon after. The sense of promise then slowly fades away, and we momentarily return to the opening of the piece—creating a cyclical timeline that mimics the different stages of our lives and that of our earth.
Losing Earth is written for and dedicated to Jake Nissly. A dear friend, fellow father, and one of the greatest living percussionists in the world.—Adam Schoenberg