Year Composed: 2009
Instrumentation: strings ( + 4 taiko & perc.
Duration 23 minutes

Audio Excerpts (MP3)

Program Notes

As I was searching for a theme that would unite this unorthodox combination of forces, I came across a poem entitled "Elemental" by the astrologer Tracy Marks. The title of the piece is a reference to Marks’ imaginative verses and to the Classical elements themselves, whose properties are ripe for spiritual and psychological metaphor.

Historically, culturally, and sonically, these two magnificent ensembles — the Western string orchestra and the Japanese taiko ensemble — are worlds apart; in order to bring them together, I sought to delve beneath the surface into the realm of universal metaphor, where both ensembles could be 'in their element.' The music of Elemental serves as a conduit, channeling energy into a multitude of primal human conditions — violence and aggression, dance and song, love, despair, and change — as symbolized by the elements of Fire, Earth, Air, and Water.

Elemental is cast in five movements. "Prelude" sets the stage with a distant, folk-like melody on solo viola that is then 'set aflame' — a symbol of violent creation. "Fire" is a vicious perpetuum mobile modeled after the 'machine-music' of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Climbing dissonances, reminiscent of wildfire spreading, lead to the intrusion of an external force: taiko drummers, performing in miyake style (an athletic and theatrical stance requiring the performers to play the drums on their sides.)

The scherzo-like third movement, "Earth," returns us to our 'roots' — combining elements of Eastern folk music, martial rhythms, pop, and jazz within a highly ritualistic framework. But the demons from the previous two movements remain, and the primary folk tune is eventually corrupted beyond recognition. In the slow movement "Air," scored for strings only, a luminous interlude featuring the solo violin (a very personal metaphor in my own life) is bookended by an impassioned statement of the initial theme. The final movement, "Water," is at times purely descriptive, suggesting the weight and power of a stormy sea, while at other times acknowledging the transformative spirit, the quintessential human capacity for change.


  • Thursday/Friday February 18/19, 2010 - Via Salzburg and Onnanoko, directed by Mayumi Seiler. Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto.

Commisions and Awards

  • commissioned by Via Salzburg, 2010.

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