Drift and Providence | 2012

Drift and Providence is a five-movement work scored for large orchestra and live electronic sound design. Lauded as "wondrously alluring" by the San Francisco Chronicle and "miraculous, music of a composer with a personal voice and keen imagination" by the New York Times, the work has had performances throughout the United States since its 2012 world premiere in Miami, Florida under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas. In the fall of 2014, MTT took the work on a national tour with the San Francisco Symphony, culminating in a performance at Carnegie Hall, which was broadcasted on WQXR. In the summer of 2016, The National Orchestral Institute recorded the work as part of a collaboration with Naxos of America. 

The work was co-commissioned by New World Symphony and San Francisco Symphony. 


3(II, II double picc).3.3(II=bass, III=cbass).3(III=cbsn) - 4.2.3(III=bass tbn).1 - perc (4 players) [ vibr(2), sizzle cymb(4), brake dr(4), tam, bass dr, triangle, crot(2 oct), low tom(2), side dr ] timp - strings ( suggested)


• 8 DPA microphones
• mixer
• MOTU 828 audio interface (or equivalent)
• laptop prepared with Max/MSP (at least version 6)
• loudspeakers (2-7 channels)
• subwoofer (optional)



"In composing, just as in life, it's important to make a good first impression. Not least among the pleasures of Samuel Adams' wondrously alluring "Drift and Providence," which got its local premiere in Davies Symphony Hall on Friday night from Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, is how swiftly the composer lets his listeners know they're in good hands.

The piece opens with a whoosh of sound from the orchestra - not so much an explosion as the leading edge of a wave - followed by a richly configured humming drone that extends and reshapes itself as we listen. There are busy string figurations undulating just below the surface, sustained bell tones and jangly percussion sounds, and an overlay of electronics driven in real time by the composer at his laptop.

And then, slowly, landmarks begin to emerge from the fog, in a process that harks back to the opening of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (but at more patient length). Minor-tinged brass harmonies start to coalesce, and those in turn expand into increasingly energized melodic figures. The entire first third of this 18-minute opus is an extended process of a landscape coming into being - or at least, into view.

If the fogbound imagery seems particularly striking, there's good reason for that. Adams, 26, is the San Francisco-born son of Berkeley composer John Adams, and the section titles of "Drift and Providence" - which include "Embarcadero" and "Divisadero" - underscore the work's Bay Area provenance. (How we end up in the capital of Rhode Island is more than I can say.)

Through five connected movements, Adams devotes most of his effort to the creation of big fields of orchestral texture that are vaporous around the edges (more than once the piece put me in mind of a Mark Rothko painting in sound). The most intriguing aspect of his writing here is the harmonic palette, beginning with a few relatively spare chords that he fills in with colorful dissonances and a midcourse veer into some straight-out funk."

Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle 

"...structured in five sections around what Mr. Adams calls three “imagined places,” though two are familiar to San Franciscans: “Embarcadero,” a neighborhood, and “Divisadero,” a street. Two connective sections are titled “Drift I” and “Drift II.” The piece concludes with “Providence,” which in this context seems to represent a state of well-being rather than the capital of Rhode Island. But the music unfolds continuously and organically.

The titles would suggest that evoking water, mists and the drifting currents of life is the driving idea of the piece. In the opening section, “Embarcadero,” the brass players exhale through their instruments to create an ethereal whoosh jabbed by quiet bursts of color from the percussion. Another special effect comes from strange steely noise created by the scraping of cowbells and brake drums. But many of these sounds are electronically enhanced by a laptop computer that Mr. Adams controlled.

From the start, sections of the orchestra, especially the strings, play undulating, lapping motifs that murmur and bustle, as if rhythmic riffs and whole themes were trying to coalesce into forms more concrete. Eventually short, abrupt phrases break out into passages that sound like fractured jazz piercing through fog. My patience for the instrumental atmospherics would have been tried had Mr. Adams not kept hooking me with the precision of the pungent harmonic writing and the sweeping arc of the whole piece, which is filled with dramatic pauses when everything stops for a moment of silence. Mr. Thomas and the San Francisco players gave a vividly colored, taut and organic performance."

Anthony Tommasini, New York Times