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Lau: Under A Veil Of Stars Scott St. John, Angela Park, Rachel Mercer

Lau: Under A Veil Of Stars Scott St. John, Angela Park, Rachel Mercer

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Intimate. Cosmic. Two words that describe not only my ideal musical vision—music that invites us into an experience with the warm; welcoming touch of the familiar; only to then show us the universe—but also the piano trio ensemble itself; which is somehow both very small (three musicians!) and very grand; symphonic even. I am thrilled to have my four piano trios represented on this album; along with a handful of piano trio subsets that I felt complemented these works. I have long been fascinated by music’s ability to transport us; to serve as a bridge to places that lie beyond the scope of everyday experience and language. For me; music offers a glimpse into an emotional and spiritual reality quite distinct from the ordinary; "objective" world. Perhaps unsurprisingly; the theme of childhood—a time of life where these hidden realities are more likely to manifest; in the form of the fantastical—pervades almost every work on this album. Sometimes the connection is explicit; as in the album’s closing work; A Simple Secret (2019); which takes its title and inspiration from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince; a novella I have had the privilege of musically interpreting several times in my career. This gentle piece is a loose adaptation of themes I composed for the film score to Charles Officer’s documentary; Invisible Essence. Over the course of the piece’s six minutes; the violin and cello engage in a ritual of friendship that echoes that of the Fox and the Little Prince in Saint-Exupéry’s fable of childlike wonder; culminating in the Fox’s "simple secret": “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” In my solo piano piece The Dreamer (2017); fantasy is conjured through more abstract means; a single; repeated E-flat provides the foundation for a dazzling kaleidoscope of sound; a metaphor for the sleeping consciousness that dreams entire worlds into being. By the end of the piece; the E-flat has dissipated into a cloud of ethereal filaments. Still more abstract is my Piano Trio No. 1 (2004); an early work whose sparse; mostly serene language was inspired by the sense of meditative awe found in the films of Hayao Miyazaki. On occasion; my affinity for the fantastic takes a surrealistic turn. Composed during the third year of my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto; Timescape Variations (2003) offers an early glimpse into this language. The piece is a theme and variations on A Musical Offering; in which Bach’s restlessly chromatic theme is subjected to a variety of "temporal" variations—stylistically warped episodes that recall Schnittke; though the Brahmsian finale betrays my Romantic side. A darker kind of surrealism—influenced in part by Michael Ende’s short story anthology; Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in the Mirror)—emerges in the violin and piano duo If Life Were a Mirror… (2020). Commissioned by violinist Lynn Kuo and finished just weeks before the onset of the pandemic; the title posits a question: To what extent is the world around us a reflection of who we are—our dreams; our anxieties; our nightmares? My response was to construct a phantasmagorical labyrinth; littered with musical artifacts that reflect one another like a hall of mirrors. Some of these artifacts take the form of musical quotations from well-known classical pieces; others are almost-quotations; tip-of-the-tongue references without a specific anchor. Memory plays an antagonistic; slippery role throughout; indeed; a literal memory slip is built into the piece (listen for the violinist’s frustrated collapse several minutes in!). The question of whether there is a reality in this piece; beneath (or beyond) what we have already heard before; is up to the listener to decide. In late 2020; I wrote a set of pieces called Intuitions; which were intended to be played by musician partners who occupied the same social "bubble." One of these ("Intuitions No. 2") was written specifically for cellist Rachel Mercer and her partner; violinist Yehonatan Berick. Conceived as an exploratory dialogue between the two instruments; the piece unfolds like a somewhat unpredictable dance that flickers between multiple stylistic traditions; passionate and playful in equal measure; but one where the partners are always in step. The piece was inspired by; and ultimately dedicated to; Yehonatan and Rachel—and the dance they created together. Yehonatan passed away—suddenly and unexpectedly—shortly after "Intuitions No. 2" was completed; leaving behind a grief-stricken musical community; family; and partner. The centrepiece of this album—the large-scale piano trio Under a Veil of Stars—was commissioned originally by the AYR Trio; which at the time was composed of Angela Park; Yehonatan; and Rachel. Yehonatan’s passing altered not only the constitution of the trio; but the music itself—its materials; structure; and purpose. What began as another fantastical journey became; instead; a tribute to a man; whose legacy of inspiring others I have tried to do musical justice to. It is a memorial painted not in sombre hues (although there are certainly sombre moments) but in vibrant; life-affirming colours. It is a work that embraces lyricism; virtuosity; passion; otherworldliness; and—eventually—a kind of grace that I can attribute only to Yehonatan’s guiding spirit. The trio is structured in three movements which—taken as a whole—suggest a broad life cycle that chronicles childhood; adulthood; and old age. The first movement ("I. The Stars Are Never Still") is based on a short story I wrote in 2021 for my friend’s one-year-old daughter; about a girl who chases (and catches) stars. The music explores the spirit of wonder and adventure associated with childhood; with shimmering textures evocative of sky brimming with stars; as well as the bittersweetness of surrendering something precious to the will of the universe. By contrast; the second movement ("II. Land of Poison Trees") is a distinctly grown-up meditation on resentment and revenge. A fantastical rumination on William Blake’s poem "A Poison Tree," the movement’s scherzo-and-trio form houses a cauldron of musical snakes—queasy string pitch-bends; explosive dissonances; and a driving; propulsive piano part. Brief lyrical episodes and an eerie; "classical" coda suggest the pretense of civility; which often masks the rage beneath. Rabindranath Tagore’s poem "Sail Away" provides the impetus for the third movement; "III. In That Shoreless Ocean…." This movement reflects an earnest (and at times despairing) attempt to grapple with death; with grief; and finally with the possibility of transcendent reunion. The movement spotlights the cello; both in its opening lament; and in the pastoral; Beethovenian chorale which—after a series of exhausting; oceanic crests and troughs—arrives like sunlight upon the shores of a new world. Under a Veil of Stars is dedicated in loving memory to Yehonatan Berick.

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Product Description:

  • Release Date: September 15, 2023

  • UPC: 3191684102252

  • Catalog Number: LM273

  • Label: Leaf Music

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Kevin Lau

  • Performer: Scott St. John, Angela Park, Rachel Mercer