Alarm Will Sound to Perform Live at PS21

Alarm Will Sound performs Ten Thousand Birds at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, 2017 (photo Alan Pierson)

(CHATHAM, N.Y.) – Contemporary music ensemble Alarm Will Sound will perform the New York State premiere of John Luther Adams’s Ten Thousand Birds — originally composed for the group in 2014 – live at PS21 on Friday, August 7 at 4pm. The performance will also be live-streamed and is part of a week-long residency.


Adams’s music, intimately connected to nature, will find perfect expression in this open, outdoor setting. The performance will follow COVID-19 safety protocols, employing limited ticketing and using outdoor space to manage risk responsibly.


Ten Thousand Birds is based on the songs of birds that are native to or migrate through the area in which the piece is performed. It explores the connections between nature and music, a topic that John Luther Adams has pursued over the course of his remarkable career. Most recently in Sila: Breath of the World and Become Ocean (for which he won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award), he has portrayed — in big musical gestures — the awe one experiences in response to nature’s grandeur.

In Ten Thousand Birds, the source of inspiration is taken from the minutest gesture of a single bird to the cacophony of thousands of birds. Adams writes: “In this music, time is not measured. Each page in the score will be its own self-contained world that occupies its own physical space and its own time.”


Distance is central to the piece, so it is ideally suited for pandemic circumstances. Alarm Will Sound’s 70-minute interpretation, designed by the group’s artistic director Alan Pierson, follows the cycle of a day, starting with bird songs heard in the morning, afternoon, evening, night, and return to morning. It uses space by moving the performers around the venue as they play and encouraging audience members to walk around to experience the music from many perspectives. Pierson says, “It’s all these players listening to each other and having dialogue with each other across space in a really spontaneous way. That is like what birds do in the wild.”


These performances mark the gradual re-emergence of ensembles to live performance, as well as the careful reopening of live music venues. Open-air theaters are the ideal way to move forward with socially distanced live events. PS21 will responsibly manage risk, allowing audiences to enjoy the music safely while incorporating health and safety guidelines from the State and CDC.


Alan Pierson says, “John Luther Adams’s music is about creating musical communities that connect us to one another other and to the Earth. This kind of community has never been more deeply needed than it is now. And so bringing his work into the world at this moment — as we ourselves take our first careful steps out of lockdown — is deeply meaningful and joyful for all of us in Alarm Will Sound.”


Fresh off the heels of a celebrated quarantine home version of Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams’s Ten Thousand Birds, described by the Washington Post as a “technical feat” with “strange power,” comes Alarm Will Sound’s next iteration of this entrancing work.


Alarm Will Sound’s performance of Ten Thousand Birds in PS21’s unique and newly built open-air pavilion on 100 acres of rolling hills and meadows marks the piece’s New York State premiere. The ensemble will arrive on Sunday, August 2, for a weeklong residency leading up to the premiere on Friday, August 7 at 4pm (also live-streamed globally).


Alan Pierson conducts Alarm Will Sound (photo Wojciech Wandzel)

The previous day, Thursday, August 6 at 6pm, Alarm Will Sound will perform a free community program called “Follow Me Into the Field.” Led by Alarm Will Sound musicians, families will take a socially distanced musical tour of the PS21 landscape. Through the voyage, instrumental sounds will comingle with the calls of wildlife, rustling leaves, and human footfalls. As in John Luther Adams’s composition, birdsong becomes music, instrumental sounds transmute into natural ones, and the open setting becomes artistic space, where the lines blur between human creativity and natural phenomena. Acclaimed experimental theater and opera director Ashley Tata will be working with Alan Pierson and Alarm Will Sound on this environmental adaptation of Ten Thousand Birds.


PS21’s Ten Thousand Birds is also a dedication to the philanthropist and founder of PS21, Judy Grunberg, whose unstinting efforts led to the preservation of the 100 acres of land at PS21 and over 2,000 acres of Columbia County land, two-thirds of which is now designated state forest.



Alarm Will Sound is a 20-member band committed to innovative performances and recordings of today’s music. They have established a reputation for performing demanding music with “equal parts exuberance, nonchalance, and virtuosity” (Financial Times).


With classical skill and unlimited curiosity, Alarm Will Sound takes on music from a wide variety of styles. “Stylistically omnivorous and physically versatile” (the Log Journal), their repertoire comes from around the world, and ranges from the arch-modernist to the pop-influenced. Since its inception, Alarm Will Sound has been associated with composers at the forefront of contemporary music. The group itself includes many composer-performers, which allows for an unusual degree of insight into the creation and performance of new work.


Alarm Will Sound is the resident ensemble at the Mizzou International Composers Festival. Held each July at the University of Missouri in Columbia, the festival features eight world premieres by early-career composers. In 2013-14, Alarm Will Sound served as artists-in-residence at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Alarm Will Sound may be heard on 14 recordings, including its most recent, The Hunger, and the premiere recording of Steve Reich’s Radio Rewrite. Acoustica, their genre-bending, critically acclaimed album, features live-performance arrangements of music by electronica guru Aphex Twin.



PS21 (Performance Spaces for the 21st Century), founded in 1999, is a not-for-profit organization operating in Chatham, N.Y., just two hours north of New York City. PS21 is committed to presenting innovative performances by leading and emerging artists in its state-of-the-art black-box and open-air pavilion theaters; fostering creativity through residencies and collaborations between performers working across disciplines and genres; serving the community via free and low-cost workshops, performances, and other programming; preserving its more than 100 acres of open spaces, meadows, woodlands, and orchards as an important resource for artists and the community; and extending opportunities for arts engagement to all, regardless of age, economic status, and cultural background.




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