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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Monday, February 24

"The Wound Dresser" by John Adams

Synopsis

It's quite possible that you or someone you know is the caregiver for an ill or aging relative or friend. If so, you know the emotional rewards—and heavy emotional toll—that caretaking involves.

On today's date in 1989, the American composer John Adams led the Saint Paul Chamber orchestra and baritone Sanford Sylvan in the premiere performance of a powerful new chamber work he had composed inspired by—and in honor of—caretakers everywhere.

In 1988, John Adams's father had died after years of struggling with Alzheimer's, and Adams was haunted by images of his mother caring for her husband as the illness progressed. Living in San Francisco, Adams was also moved by Bay Area friends who nursed loved ones during those helpless early years of the AIDS epidemic.

Adams found that these 20th century experiences resonated in certain poems by the 19th century American poet Walt Whitman, who had served as a volunteer nurse during the Civil War, initially to care for his own wounded brother, but subsequently to tend other wounded soldiers in those traumatic years.

Adams chose one Whitman poem, entitled "The Wound Dresser," as text and title for his new work. "The Wound-Dresser," said Adams, is about the power of "human compassion that is acted out on a daily basis." This work has become one of the most-performed and most-admired of all the compositions of John Adams.

Music Played in Today's Program

John Adams (b. 1947) The Wound Dresser Sanford Sylvan, bar;Orch. of St. Luke's;John Adams, cond. Nonesuch 79218

Additional Information

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