Heroes and Angels

Year Composed: 2003
Instrumentation: perc/hp/strings
Duration 12 minutes

Audio Excerpts (MP3)

Program Notes

The title Heroes and Angels refers to two of the main thematic ideas within the piece. The first is an optimistic, simple melody, first revealed by the clarinet during the very opening bars of the piece. It has an almost comic-book quality, like the theme music for an imaginary superhero. The second theme is a lyrical and more complex melody that appears about halfway through the piece, and one that I associated with the idea of an angel. Linking these two subjects together is a hymn-like progression that surfaces almost constantly throughout the piece.

Many of my works have expressed fascination with the idea of transcendence, of moving beyond the boundaries imposed upon us by nature. Despite its celebratory overtones, Heroes and Angels is no exception. The music is in a constant struggle to attain a higher ‘plane’ of sound—whether through rapturous modulations, deliberately saturated string writing, the use of accelerandi, or quasi-fugal episodes. At the climax of the Angels theme, when the music seems heaven-bound, this struggle culminates in a sudden, cataclysmic failure that for a moment sears the fabric of optimism that pervaded the piece. But it is only with this failure that the music is allowed to move forward and unfold toward its final, affirmative destination.


  • September 20, 2003 - Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Michael Reason. Hamilton Place, Hamilton

Commissions and Awards

  • commissioned by the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, 2002


  • "...the attraction to the ear was how Lau painted his theme on his orchestral canvas: passing it from instrument to instrument, disguising it, manipulating it, and transforming it.

    "The work, like so much on the evening's bill, was episodic. But where [Bernstein's Candide Overture] was taut, Lau gave himself slack. Indeed, his episodes meandered. Where Bernstein was pulsating, Lau gave us suave, cool ruminations.

    "Written in a very accessible language, its sensitive moments came in a poignant oboe solo and touching chorale. If the audience's response is any indication, the piece deserves a second hearing sometime soon."

    - Leonard Turnevicius, The Hamilton Spectator (on Heroes and Angels), 2003

  • "Kevin Lau’s Heroes and Angels quite literally set the tone as the inspired orchestration and thematic development brought a wonderful radiance to the first notes heard. His sense of dramatic balance made the music ebb and flow in a manner that kept the large crowd completely engaged from stem to stern." - S. James Wegg, JWR, 2015

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