Northridge earthquake piece by John Adams to have L.A. premiere

Northridge earthquake piece by John Adams to have L.A. premiere
Composer John Adams at Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2013. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

A 1995 composition by John Adams written in response to the Northridge earthquake will have its belated Los Angeles premiere in August when the unconventional song-play piece is performed at the Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood.

The performance, set for Aug. 23 at 8 p.m., will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 earthquake, whose epicenter was in the San Fernando Valley. Long Beach Opera will perform the piece at the Ford under the baton of music director Andreas Mitisek.


The composition, titled "I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky," debuted in 1995 in Berkeley and was performed the same year in New York as part of a festival organized by the Lincoln Center.

The song-play, which features a libretto by poet June Jordan, depicts several young Angelenos of different social and economic backgrounds who experienced the magnitude-6.7 quake that struck in the early morning hours on Jan. 17, 1994.

The quake resulted in 60 deaths and tens of billions of dollars in damage across Southern California.

The title of the piece came from a quote that Jordan read in a Los Angeles Times article.

Adams' piece was met with harsh reviews when it debuted. The composer mixed various genres of music, from minimalism to pop. The productions at Berkeley and New York were directed by Peter Sellars, who has collaborated frequently with Adams.

The August performance at the Ford will be part of the Zev Yaroslavsky Signature Series, a program of performances backed by the outgoing L.A. County supervisor.

In a 1995 interview with The Times, Adams was asked why the piece wasn't scheduled to be performed in Los Angeles. The composer answered that no one in L.A. had asked for it.