"Transmigration" is Adams's Pulitzer-winning commission from the New York Philharmonic to commemorate those who died on 9/11 -- a >20-minute work for orchestra, choruses (adult & children together) and a taped surround soundtrack created by Mark Grey. The texts are tiny excerpts of very personal remembrances from relatives and friends, pulled primarily from the missing persons signs that were posted in the aftermath...
Adams has composed a masterpiece of public music, not limited in appeal to classical music fans or to any political perspective. He is one of America's top composers, a compelling candidate to be a Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra composer-of-the-year sometime, and serves a national role in this piece.
Clark Bustard reviews in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
"On the Transmigration of Souls" is not great music in the usual sense. No melody, figure or gesture of musical rhetoric may linger even after repeated hearings. What sticks with you is the effect - maybe the better word is affect, in the old meaning of music that imposes feelings or opens one up to them - of the combination of abstract and representational sounds and the resonance of the words.
An Associated Press review:
It's a daunting task for any artist to create a work that reflects the seismic impact of 9-11. Yet On the Transmigration of Souls comes remarkably close to achieving that. Adams' artistic skill and contrapuntal ingenuity weave this sonic collage into a heart-breaking, deeply moving memorial that seems to encompass all of the grief, anger and transcendance of those tragic events of three years ago.
Update 2: Bradley Bambarger reviews in the Star-Ledger:
That said, "On the Transmigration of Souls" isn't a work to be played repeatedly; the piece's extramusical associations are just too potent. Adams drew the text from notices for missing persons posted in New York after the World Trade Center tragedy. As sung by the chorus and read on tape, the notices run like a red thread through the musical fabric, with the words ranging from simple physical descriptions to outpourings of love. Each has a deeply touching resonance. Although scored for vast orchestra and double chorus, the work reserves full volume for a few gut-wrenching measures.
Stephanie von Buchau in the Alameda Times-Star:
Well, Adams has written a true Pulitzer piece. It may not be academic, but it is a safe, craftsmanly 25-minutes, an elegant combination of orchestra (NY Philharmonic), chorus (New York Choral Artists), children (Brooklyn Youth Chorus), solo trumpet (a la Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question) and text readers...Still, it is not much of a thing musically -- too tame, too ephemeral, a project that seems a far remove from Adams' usually flinty Yankee humanism. I much prefer his contentious, roiling choruses of Jews and Palestinians from "The Death of Klinghoffer." They are political-social events actually made into art, not just underlined in once-removed sorrow.
Charles Ward in the Houston Chronicle:
At times, Adams' multilayered style diminishes the shot-in-the-gut power of the quoted text, but the compensation is a brooding, powerful meditation on a horrific event. On the Transmigration of Souls is not music to fill time or the background. It demands careful, detailed listening.