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Composed: 1999
Length: c. 10 minutes
Orchestration: 4 flutes (all = piccolo), 4 oboes, 4 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 contrabassoons, 4 alto saxophones, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 2 tubas, 2 electric guitars, 2 electric bass guitars, 4 synthesizers, 2 timpani, percussion (bass drum, crotales, small tam-tam), and strings

 

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (U.S. premiere)

 

As a student at Miami Beach High School in Florida, Michael Gordon had the chance to write for – and conduct – the school orchestra. After graduating and moving to New York, however, he abandoned the symphony orchestra as a vehicle for his music, writing instead for small, amplified groups devoted to new music.

Gordon’s return to the orchestra came in 1999, when John Adams asked him to compose a piece for a concert tour Adams would lead in Europe, featuring a large orchestra assembled by the Ensemble Modern. The program included Charles Ives’ Fourth Symphony and Adams’ Naive and Sentimental Music, a piece premiered by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic earlier that year.

“There is a lot of music about love. I am not sure why most of it is soft and gentle. Love is one of the world's most powerful forces. One cannot touch it or even be precise about what it is. To me, making a statement about love is to make something loud and mysterious and huge,” Gordon writes.

“The orchestra is divided into four groups consisting of violins, high winds, and brass, each tuned one-eighth of a tone apart. Each of these groups is supported by a keyboard tuned similarly. The four groups trade off a melody that ascends and descends in eighth tones. The lower instruments, along with percussion, two electric guitars, and two electric basses, support the upper instruments with insistent and driving rhythm.

“The title comes from a song by Cream. As a boy, I listened to their album, Disraeli Gears, over and over while trying to decipher the psychedelic cover. The dark, moody, raw music that accompanied this love song was a revelation to me.”

Adams recalled the experience vividly in his 2008 memoir, Hallelujah Junction:

“Conducting the hundred players of the Ensemble Modern Orchestra in Sunshine of Your Love was like putting one’s head in a blast furnace or standing behind a jet engine. Compared to an elegant Reich ensemble piece or a delicately attenuated tapestry by Feldman, this is a world of banshees and dybbuks, of screaming highs and throbbing lows, a classical composer’s response to the assaultive sonic environments of experimental rock and grunge aesthetics. Part of the thrill of performing this work was in knowing that the visceral emotion it produced could only be attained in a live performance. No recording or compact disc representation could hope to re-create the sensory overload of hearing it played by a large orchestra with its added component of four synthesizers, each tuned a quarter-tone different, and thrashing electric guitars.”