Title: Zwischen den Sternen
It is important to remember the stars because they put things in perspective. For a start, the specks of light we see at night – coming from across the universe – began before we existed. The actual distance between the stars is almost incomprehensible, yet from our faraway earth-bound perspective they appear in close clusters and constellations. The mysterious relationship between proximity and perspective – millions of light years seemingly within the span of a hand! This might induce anxiety, or awe, yet equally the stars offer a comforting sense of constancy (even if they do sometimes explode into supernovae and change the structure of the sky).
The music connects to these thoughts through the mediating filter of Rilke’s poem of the same name, number XX of the Second Part of his Sonnets to Orpheus, which I read translated in the Norton edition. Rilke humanises the cosmic expanse by analogy, comparing it initially to the distance between two children, and then the ‘many spans merely from a maid to a man, when she avoids him and has him in mind.’ In so doing he magnifies the sense of scale inherent in human feelings and relationships, drawing our attention to the solitude of emotional distance. Physical space might be vast, but emotional space seems vaster…
These twin notions of distance and relationship are key to understanding the musical world of Zwischen den Sternen. The most direct analogy is in the evolving spatial distribution of the musicians. With each spatial reconfiguration, the players form new musical relationships which unambiguously serve to define the sound and form of the piece. But there is also a sense of space in the harmony, especially in the opening dyads: empty yet full of feeling, with a melancholy twist that comes from the spectral re-tuning of six notes of the piano to partials 7, 11, 13, 14, 21 and 23 of a C-spectrum.
This re-tuning is matched by the string trio who double on scordatura instruments: violin with four G-strings, viola with 2 G- and 2 C-strings, cello with four A-strings. These instruments, with their unique resonances, become the defining feature of the music from movement IV until the end of the piece, when the cellist is left alone on stage, absorbed in an ecstatic semi-improvisation while the others wistfully process out into the distance… But on reflection maybe the most starry aspect of the piece comes earlier with the wonderful sound of the steel drum: exploding constellations of notes blooming and fading, bright yet evanescent, a sonic microcosm of the distant stars and the space between them.