The Beinen Contemporary/ Early Vocal Ensemble, Contemporary Music Ensemble and the Northwestern Symphony Orchestra.

The Arts Green, the south lawn of Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Performing Arts, was the venue for the Midwest premiere of John Luther Adams’ “Sila: the breath of the world.”

With Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline as a backdrop, 80 musicians loosely arranged in five choirs – strings, brass, woodwind, percussion and vocal – performed this composition by the environmentally conscious composer Mr. Adams. This work was designed and composed to be performed outdoors and to eventually fade into the landscape of its location.

Decades of living in Alaska influenced the piece, in which Mr. Adams created music intended to be heard outdoors – something he referred to as “ecological listening.”

The sun was shining, the water was shimmering, the sky blue with billowing clouds as the waves crashed against the breakwall. All this appeared to meld together in a unique musical experience, reflecting the meaning of the Inuit title: the breath of the world.

The five choirs of musicians were stationed throughout the Arts Green. There was no conductor. Every musician was a soloist, and no two musicians played exactly the same part, making the musical landscape as unique to each musician as it was to the listener.

Mr. Adams said there is no “best seat in the house,” as listeners can root themselves in one location and allow the music to move around them or wander freely throughout the performance, shaping their own listening experience, creating a special “mix” of the music.

In program remarks, the composer said there is no clear ending to the piece, and as the performance gradually dissolves, the musicians join the audience in listening
to the continuing music of the place.

The 80 musicians performed two concerts, on Sept. 25 and 26, the first in a year of musical events to celebrate the new building.