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90 Percussionists Among Arboretum’s Trees Immerse You In John Luther Adams’ ‘Inuksuit’

Kadence Arts group performs composer John Luther Adams' “Inuksuit” at Boston's Arnold Arboretum. (Courtesy Kadence Arts)
Kadence Arts group performs composer John Luther Adams' “Inuksuit” at Boston's Arnold Arboretum. (Courtesy Kadence Arts)
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After hearing a wood thrush in his 20s while working on a farm in Georgia, composer John Luther Adams created his first major outdoor-themed work, “Songbirdsongs,” and launched a decades-long musical career exploring land, wildlife and ambient sound.

These ideas imbue all of Adams' work, including “Become Ocean,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning epic that made the New York composer famous in 2014. But they especially apply to the outdoor works like 2013’s “Inuksuit”—an Alaskan Inuit word that means "to act in the capacity of the human"—a massive, outdoor piece that the Kadence Arts group performs at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 12. (Admission is free.) The New York Times once called it "the ultimate environmental piece."

“The whole world is music,” Adams told WBUR’s Open Source during a podcast interview earlier this year, “and as we begin to listen to the world that way we begin to understand not only where we are but who we are.”

Led by producer Maria Finkelmeier and artistic director Amy Garapic, more than 90 New England-based percussionists playing conch shells, gongs, maracas, air horns, cymbals, glockenspiels and a variety of drums will spread out around through the park’s trees to play the 75-minute work. Listeners are encouraged to roam around the dispersed musicians.

"It's an outdoor piece, so there is no best seat in the house," Adams told Open Source. "The best place to hear ‘Inuksuit’ is wherever you are."

While for “Inuksuit” Adams conceives of "each instrumentalist as a soloist, and each listener as a solitary figure," he hopes “Inuksuit” becomes greater than the sum of its parts. "Out of the shared experience of our individual listening emerges this larger sense that we're all in something bigger than we are."

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