Composed for Ensemble Gô
Heavenward, my third in a cycle of independent pieces inspired by Japanese death poems (along with On the Verge and When You Contemplate the Waters), was directly inspired by a haiku of Dohaku (died in 1675): Cargoless, / bound heavenward, / Ship of the moon (English translation from Japanese Death Poems, ed. Yoel Hoffman, 1986). Unlike the previous two pieces in my “Death Haiku” cycle, I did not derive a musical narrative nor musical elements from Dohaku’s poem; neither did I wish to express the tragedy of the poet’s impending death, nor to comment on the gravity of death in general. Instead, I aimed to express a more personal reaction to the words. The piece depicts a gradual emotional ascent, beginning on a slow and dignified note and interspersed with brief moments of fleeting activity, harmonic instability and incremental tempo changes; eventually, it ends in a far different place. All the while, a three-note motive dominates the piece, appearing relatively unchanged throughout the piece.
I was still at work on the piece in March 2014 when Malaysia Airlines 370 vanished mid-flight. Although it has little or no elegiac quality (and indeed an elegy was never my intent), I have come to think privately of Heavenward as an unofficial tribute to the souls on board the doomed aircraft.
Instrumentation: 2 violins, viola, cello, marimba
Duration: 10 minutes
Premiere: May 2, 2014, Conservatory Concert Hall, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, Singapore • Ensemble Gô: Monique Lapins and San Win Htike, violins; Victor Williams, viola; Dylan Lee, cello; Naoto Segawa, marimba