Year Composed: 2008
Instrumentation: vcl, pno
Duration 12 minutes

Audio Excerpts (MP3)

Program Notes

Not long ago I encountered a stunning image from a source in popular culture. In this depiction, a ship sails the open sea on a clear, cloudless night; glimpsed from above, it appears that the vessel is gliding on a sea of stars.

This image had surprising resonance with me, as it seemed to suggest a metaphor for the lone individual’s journey into the great unknown, both beautiful and terrifying in its infinitude and mystery. In Starsail, the cellist embarks on such a journey, venturing heroically beyond the comforts of 'home' (represented at the outset by a lush 'Romantic' theme) into the wilderness of human experience. The music's shifting stylistic idioms and adventurous structures are attempts to 'surf' the boundary between order and chaos, to navigate beyond the confines of what we know and understand (both essential to growth and inherently dangerous) while anchoring ourselves to the traditions that define us. As the piece veers into stranger and stranger worlds, the principal theme for Starsail resurfaces during crucial moments like a refrain, reminding us constantly of home—where we are, and who we are.

Starsail was originally commissioned by Sarah Steeves and was premiered at McGill University in March, 2008.


  • March 19, 2008 - Sarah Steeves, cello; Lauretta Altman, piano. Redpath Hall, McGill University, Montreal
  • November 25, 2010 - Rachel Mercer, cello; Angela Park, piano. Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto
  • April 3, 2011 - Rachel Mercer, cello; Angela Park, piano. Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto
  • January 29, 2012 - Rachel Mercer, cello; Angela Park, piano. Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto
  • February 25, 2012 - Sarah Steeves, cello; Victor Cheng, piano. Gallery 345, Toronto
  • April 6, 2015 - Sarah Jane Johnson, cello; Phil Roberts, piano. D.F. Cook Recital Hall, Memorial University, St. John's

CD Release

  • Title: The Sounds of Our Time
  • Producers: Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver
  • Naxos Canadian Classics Series Producers: Charles Barber and Raymond Bisha
  • Original Music by: William Rowson, Kevin Lau, Abigail Richardson-Schulte, Hunter Coblentz, Mark Nerenberg
  • Performed by: Rachel Mercer (cello), Angela Park (piano)
  • Edited and mixed by: Norbert Kraft and Bonne Silver
  • Available for purchase at:


  • "...a wild ride with a transcendental ending." David Olds, The Whole Note

  • "Kevin Lau's Starsail is energetic and questing, tossing off cascades of notes whether vehement and powerful or rippling out in delicate rainbows as it enacts a voyage of inner discovery likened (in the composer's words) to 'a vessel gliding on a sea of stars.' Despite this Scriabinesque imagery Lau's harmonies and instrumental usages remain fairly traditional (avoiding the Russian mystic's disorienting chromaticism.) Nothing here would bother, say Ravel or even Rachmaninoff. And both would surely enjoy the gorgeous sounds and rapturous enchantment Lau generates with them." Mark Lehman, American Record Guide

Commissions and Awards

  • commissioned by Sarah Steeves
  • winner of the 2010 Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music


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