El Niño is actually a warming of the waters off of South America associating with a reversal of the prevailing winds in the area. This change, often of only a few degrees, modifies weather patterns all over the world. Because the water is warmer, more convection occurs over the water and more moisture is drawn north towards southern california, creating flooding and excessive rain here. El Nino also causes heavy rain in other southern states as the storms move east. El Nino in the Northwest often brings drought as storms stay south.. it is also charactarized by mild winters in the North, and decreased hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

lately there have been several severe El Nino episodes, and also the occurence of El Nino, usually once every 7 years or so, has been more frequent lately. This is just further evidence that the Earth's climate is very changable.. some believe greenhouse warming modifies El Nino but that is yet to be seen. Regardless of all of this, during the winter of 1997 severe flooding in California brought a spotlight to El Nino when it entered the eyes of popular culture.

Update: As of Fall 2001, it looks like El Niño is making a comeback... However, it doesn't appear that this El Niño will be as strong as the previous one in 1997.

A Nativity oratorio by the composer John Adams (1947-?), El Niño is the story of the birth of Jesus and the events surrounding it. From the annunciation and the visit to Elisabeth, through the birth and adoration of Jesus, to the massacre of the innocents by Herod and the flight into Egypt, the oratorio freely flows over a long continuum of time and place. It draws its text from multiple sources, from the Old Testament] prophets Haggai and Isaiah, to the modern day Mexican poet and novelist Rosario Castellanos. Other sources include: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Gabriela Mistral, Ruben Dario, the Wakefield Mystery Play, Martin Luther's Christmas Sermon, passages from the Gospel of Luke and a few "gnostic" gospels from the Apocrypha. Appropriately, it is sung in English, Latin and Spanish.

The world premiere took place in Paris, France] on December 15, 2000 and included not only the full orchestra, chorus, and 6 soloists but a multimedia aspect as well (which is not required for performance, but was added by Peter Sellars, a frequent collaborator of John Adams) of film, dance, costumes, and lighting. The film is interesting in itself: a silent movie of a modernization of the Christ child story, filmed eloquently and harshly with images of L.A. street life. The American premiere took place January 11, 2001 at Davies Hall in San Francisco. Both were conducted by Kent Nagano and had soloists Dawn Upshaw, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Willard White in the three main roles. As well as a full SATB chorus and children's chorus, the piece is orchestrated for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 french horns, 3 trombones, 2 steel string guitars, 1 harp, 1 piano, 1 keyboard sampler, a variety of percussion and a minimum of 14 violins, 6 violas, 6 celli, and 4 contrabasses.

The play on words with the title is intentional, meaning both "the Christ child" and the phenomenon of nature. Indeed, the music is roiling and forceful in typical John Adams style. All of Adams' minimalist music pushes the boundary of sonic complexity, being lush with rich soundscapes, and El Niño is his "most powerful and affecting and sublimely assured music".

"It is a total experience--confusing, overwhelming but also, in its multiple parts, liberating. It allows nothing to be taken for granted, which is, after all, the whole point of a miracle"

Information culled from:
The Los Angeles Times January 13, 2001
The New York Times January 15, 2001

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