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Composer Spotlight: Kevin Lau

In honour of the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, we’re pleased to feature Toronto composer Kevin Lau

Composer Kevin Lau, resting against a wall
Composer Kevin Lau.

Piece: Between the Earth and Forever (2020)

From the Composer:

Between the Earth and Forever is, first and foremost, a work inspired by space exploration, and the intrepid explorers who dare venture beyond the boundaries of our planet, wading into the mystery of the cosmos on behalf of all humankind. Indeed, the French horn melody which opens this work—with its elemental intervals above a bass drone on C—deliberately evokes Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, made famous through its use in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The title comes from the caption of a photo depicting the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield performing his first spacewalk. Written by Hadfield himself, the phrase eloquently captures the sense of space (literally!) between our home and the universe. But it also spoke to me of other, less tangible spaces: the space between the familiar and the unknown, between the earthly and the transcendent, between the preciousness of nature and the abyss of environmental disaster.  

Exploring these ideas through the lens of the erhu—a traditional Chinese, two-stringed instrument—was not an intuitive choice at first. But my grandfather, who I never met, was an amateur musician who played many instruments, the erhu among them. This tenuous ancestral connection provided an invisible thread which kept me tethered during the most challenging parts of composing this work. The voice of the erhu seemed to convey a sense of immense solitude; that, and its ability to project both human and otherworldly qualities, made it an increasingly appropriate focal point for this work. 

The relationship between the soloist and the orchestra embraces several conventions of the Western concerto tradition—including a virtuosic dance between the erhu and orchestra that culminates in a vertiginous climax—until the final few minutes, when the sound of the erhu glides farther and farther above the ensemble, as if in an ever-widening orbit.