Requiem for Adam

Premiered in Amsterdam in 1998, Requiem was written by Minimalist founder Terry Riley in memory of Kronos Quartet violinist David Harrington’s 16-year-old son Adam, who died from a blood clot in his heart while hiking with family and friends on Mt. Diablo in California in 1995.

The first movement, “Ascending the Heaven Ladder,” is a beautiful four-note theme that undergoes reharmonization as it moves upward in a grouped pattern (probably my favorite); the second, “Cortejo Funebre en el Monte Diablo,” is more discordant with its use of electronic music (simulating horns, bells, gongs) to create a cacophonous modern sound that didn’t do it for me. The third movement, “Requiem for Adam,” starts with eerie string glissandos/polyrhythmic pulses building into a frenzy before turning silent (as the liner notes read: “when reaching the top, the music suddenly ends … but it doesn’t end, for as anyone who has experienced the full rush of radiant sound knows, when it ends there is a marvelous aura of un-sounded sound floating in the afterimage"). The reflective album concludes with a melancholy solo piano piece, “The Philosopher’s Hand,” composed and played spontaneously by Riley in memory of his teacher, Indian vocalist Pandit Pran Nath.

Overall, I enjoyed three-fourths of this deeply personal recording—and moreover, the way Riley has influenced Kronos’ sound over two decades by emphasis on bowing technique (intonation though other means than vibrato).