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El Niño

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  • John Adams’s "City Noir" & Saxophone Concerto Due May 6 with St. Louis Symphony, David Robertson, Saxophonist Timothy McAllister

    Nonesuch Records releases City Noir—comprising the title piece by composer John Adams and the debut recording of his Saxophone Concerto—on May 6, 2014. Both pieces are performed by the St. Louis Symphony led by Music Director David Robertson. Saxophonist Timothy McAllister is featured on both pieces. The City Noir album is available to pre-order in the Nonesuch Store.

  • John Adams Joins Toronto Symphony Orchestra for Its Tenth Annual New Creations Festival

    John Adams has teamed up with Toronto Symphony Orchestra Music Director Peter Oundjian for the tenth-annual New Creations Festival, running Saturday, March 1, through Friday, March 7. Following his TSO debut in the 2011 New Creations Festival, Adams returns with his music as a focus in the 2014 Festival, with Oundjian leading the TSO in his Doctor Atomic Symphony and the composer leading the orchestra in the Canadian premieres of his Slonimsky’s Earbox and Absolute Jest.

About this Album

The CD of this album is available to purchase at ArkivMusic.

“John Adams captured the intimacy, mystery, and apocalyptic nature of the Nativity story in a thoroughly contemporary idiom," wrote the Wall Street Journal, "fusing his well-known minimalist style with a rich blend of text in English, Spanish, and Latin for an effect ultimately as timeless as the story itself.”

Bringing fresh perspectives to an ancient story, John Adams treats the theme of the Nativity in the evening-length oratorio El Niño. The work received its world premiere performance at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in December 2000, followed by its North American premiere in San Francisco the following January, both to great critical acclaim. Nonesuch Records released its world premiere recording in August 2001.

El Niño features a trio of world-renowned vocal soloists—Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and Willard White. The cast of performers also includes Paul Hilliard’s Theatre of Voices, a full chorus (The London Voices), and the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester, conducted by Kent Nagano. The texts were compiled by Adams and his longtime collaborator Peter Sellars, who also created a stage production for the original performances.

El Niño weaves Nativity texts from diverse and sometimes surprising sources into a dramatic whole. At the core are six poems by Mexico’s two great women poets, Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz and Rosario Castellanos. “So much of the ‘official’ narrative has traditionally been told by the Church, and presumably by men,” says Adams. “But seldom in the orthodox stories is there any awareness of the misery and pain of labor, of the uncertainty and doubt of pregnancy or of that mixture of supreme happiness and inexplicable emptiness that follows the moment of birth. All of those intense emotional dramas surrounding the birth of a child are touched on in the poetry of these Hispanic women.”

Interwoven within the narrative of El Niño are sections of little-known Gnostic Infancy Gospels. These gospels, written at roughly the same time as the New Testament Gospels, treat the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus with often greater shading, subtlety, and even humor than the official Biblical texts, which are also set in the piece.


Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano (disc 1: 3, 9-11; disc 2: 1, 4, 11, 13)
Dawn Upshaw, soprano (disc 1: 2, 6, 7, 9-11; disc 2, 4, 5, 9, 12)
Willard White, bass-baritone (disc 1: 7-11; disc 2: 2-4, 7, 11)
Theatre of Voices (disc 1: 1, 2, 4-9, 11; disc 2: 2, 3, 5, 12, 13): Paul Hillier, artistic director; Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, Steven Rickards, countertenors
London Voices (disc 1: 1, 4-6, 9, 11; disc 2: 1, 6, 8-11), Terry Edwards, choir director
Maîtrise de Paris (disc 2: 13), Patrick Marco, director
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano, conductor

Produced by Wilhelm Hellweg
Recorded December 2000 at Le Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris
Engineered by Gilles Pezerat and Mark Grey
Assistant Engineers: Alain Joubert, Gérard Cognet, Pierre Bouillin
Additional Recording January 2001 at The Plant, Los Angeles
Engineered by Mark Grey
Assistant Engineer: Billy Konkel
Edited by Pierre Bouillin at Radio France
Mixed by Gilles Pezerat at Radio France
Assistant Engineer: Pierre Bouillin
Technical director for Radio France: Francis Robert
Mastered by Jean Marie Gijssen, Polyhymnia International, Baarn, Netherlands
Additional mastering by Robert C. Ludwig at Gateway Mastering Studios, Portland, ME

Design by John Heiden, SMOG
Cover art: Mujer de Mucha Enagua, PA’TI XICANA (1999) by Yreina Cervantes

EL Niño was co-commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony – with generous, endowed support of Phyllis C. Wattis – Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris), Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (New York), the Barbican Centre (London), and the BBC. Libretto adapted from poems by Rosaria Castellanos, Gabriela Mistral, Hildegard von Bingen, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Rubén Darío, Vicente Huidobro, and anonymous and text from Wakefield Mystery Plays, Documents for the Study of the Gospels, Haggai, and the Bible.

Executive Producer: Robert Hurwitz

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