Year Composed: 2013
Instrumentation: 2+picc.2+eh.2+bcl.2+cb/ perc/hp/pno/strings
Duration 11 minutes

Program Notes

Treeship is an attempt to fuse together, through music, two dramatically different—yet potentially harmonious—concepts. Both the tree and the ship are objects of exceedingly common experience which nonetheless conceal deep mythological dimensions. The tree, of course, can be said to represent nature in its entirety and the living world: vast, complex, deeply interconnected. The ship, by contrast, is a product of civilization, a symbol of humanity at the summit of its endeavours. It shepherds us across unknown (and perhaps dangerous) waters, bearing us toward an infinite horizon—a metaphor for our capacity to dream and our profound urge to explore the world at multiple levels of resolution. The juxtaposition of these two ideas provides the conceptual basis for this work.

A long, single melody weaves its way through the piece like the trunk of a tree, spawning several smaller motives (branches, so to speak) which in turn undergo a kind of organic process of growth and development. The orchestra, which acts as both organism and vessel, carries these motivic identities across time, articulating a musical narrative that ventures from the seafaringly heroic to the brink of disaster, and—eventually—to the ‘horizon’ of wonder, where nature and culture unite.

The image of a ‘treeship’ is suggestive of a number of fantastic references (especially the films of Hayao Miyazaki, whose work I continue to admire). The term itself has direct origins in author Dan Simmons’ far-future saga, the Hyperion Cantos. In it, seven characters—each tormented by their own personal demons, but united by a mysterious thread—embark on a fatalistic pilgrimage. They are borne toward their destination by a treeship (the Yggdrasil), an organically constructed vessel capable of carrying its passengers across vast stretches of space. Although the ship does not figure prominently in the story, its brief but memorable appearance made a vivid impression—an impression I have tried, in part, to capture with notes.


  • June 12 & 13, 2013 - Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Peter Oundjian. Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.
  • May 6, 2015 - Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Peter Oundjian. Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto.
  • May 8, 2015 - Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Peter Oundjian. Southam Hall, National Arts Centre, Ottawa.
  • May 9, 2015 - Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Peter Oundjian. Maison symphonique de Montréal, Montréal.

Commissions and Awards

  • Commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, with generous support from the RBC Emerging Artists' Foundation and the Canada Council for the Arts.


  • "Lau, creator of the evening’s opening work, is someone to follow... Treeship has sweep and momentum. It also has a clear narrative arc bookended by wonderful orchestration that was the sonic embodiment of shimmering stars.” - John Terauds (2013), The Toronto Star and Musical Toronto

  • Treeship, a new work by TSO affiliate composer Kevin Lau, was overflowing with abundance. There was much melody, much harmony, much sonority and much colour – from a young composer with much talent.” - Colin Eatock (2013), Eatock Daily

    "Treeship, scored for very full orchestra and percussion, takes off in a breath of winds out of which strings swell a romantic melody… Quick shifts in textures create an exciting flow that is beautifully controlled by 'Captain' Peter Oundjian at the helm." - Stanley Fefferman (2013), OpusOneReview

    "Lau uses the full resources of the orchestra, and uses them brilliantly. His command of colour is masterful. Though his harmonic vocabulary is thoroughly modern, the work is thoroughly accessible – compelling in fact." - Richard Todd (2015), Wolfgang's Tonic

    "Treeship served as a well-suited introduction to the concert’s main fare, richly orchestrated and full of post-tonal expressivity. The piece had a fantastic, cinematic quality. Low timpani rumbles were evocative, bringing to mind the imagery of the great grey hull of a ship. Segments of material were brought to the foreground of the cacophonous whole, as though shifting shadows were revealing various layers of the work. Excellent orchestration and an energetic approach by the ensemble rendered this performance a great success." - Christina Volpini, Bachtrack

    "Treeship...joins the short-but-growing list of new works I have heard which definitely bear repeating. Not least this is the case because Lau has evolved a musical language which is capable of growing and developing structurally in an almost Classical manner... Lau has an ability, rare among contemporary composers known to me, to create extended melodic statements lasting for a number of measures... At any rate, Treeship was a very appropriate companion to the Bruckner symphony which came after and was well worth another hearing." - Ken Stephen (2015), Large Stage Live!

    "...the resulting composition was very entertaining, wonderfully tonal... In Treeship [Lau] has given [the orchestra] a handsome vehicle to open a concert." - Leslie Barcza (2015), Barczablog

    "L’oeuvre de Kevin Lau...est d’une modernité très tempérée. Celui qui, selon les terminologies de jadis, semble être le compositeur en résidence du TSO écrit une musique symphonique consonante et opulente, évocatrice comme une musique d’un film américain à gros budget. C’est très agréable à écouter, en tout cas." - Christophe Huss (2015), Le Devoir

    "Un 11 minutes qui « sonne vivant », avec une forte utilisation des cuivres, une exécution impeccable… de quoi faire voyager à des années-lumière d’ici." - Hugo Prévost (2015),


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