for mixed choir and orchestra

Poems by Kerstin Perski

Duration: 30 minutes

One evening in March 2019, Kerstin and I sat talking about us human beings and the Earth. Our planet Earth, being increasingly exposed. Vulnerable. The ice is melting, the forests are aflame, our rivers and streams are overflowing in a way that we haven’t seen before. The proportions are frightening. What will happen? What is happening right now?

In our thoughts, we transported ourselves to another planet. We sat there and gazed from a distance at our beautiful blue planet. The Earth. So beautifully suspended in space. Yes, there it is. But what do we find there? Could there be life? Are there people?

We chatted for a long while and somehow it felt consoling that we nevertheless sat there philosophizing, albeit on another planet. We existed. We were alive. 

I was about to begin composing a large-scale piece for choir and orchestra; I was looking for ideas and felt that it was impossible not to touch upon the climate crisis, that fateful issue for humanity. With my voice and a piano I had improvised a free introduction that I gave to Kerstin.

After our conversation, she returned with two short, exquisite poems. The third poem had already been completed. It was written in 2008 and is a very dramatic text about a natural disaster. Even though it was written first, I decided that it should be placed last in the piece. Then I started to compose and, as always, I was carried away with the music. After a long phase of coalescing it gradually becomes clear and begins to take form.

My starting point is always that I examine something with the help of music. I try to hear what needs to be said, what needs to be expressed. It becomes a conversation with the notes, in which I set in motion processes keenly alive to where the music wants to go. I work at it, play it over and over, knead, sing, dream the music forth. If it is inspired, it opens up and starts to compose itself. Things arise that I never would have been able to hit upon by thinking. You have to pay attention, have your feelers up. 

About Silent Earth

The first movement is desolate with wind gongs, cymbals and icy brass. In the midst of this: the choir, Humanity. 

In the second movement, the choir – we humans – sing to the Earth. Telling who we were. How we lived. The sonorities are often in unison, having the simplicity of a song. At times almost romantic. Actually, when listening to a recent playback I thought it was a little too romantic, too beautiful. As an artist, I then began to paint over the movement with trills, sometimes harmonious, sometimes discordant. Now and then I made the music come to a halt, freeze. The movement concludes with the choir singing in many different languages to the Earth: Save yourself from us! Save us from ourselves! Save us!

The last movement is quite dramatic, a depiction of a natural disaster and a lament combined.

The burning earth. The tremoring earth —

The piece is rounded off by an extended coda.

Karin Rehnqvist, 28 February 2020

Commissioned by the Eduard van Beinum Stichting, at the request of the NTR ZaterdagMatinee, Radio 4’s concert series in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, and Sveriges Radios Symfoniorkester.

Composed for the Netherlands Radio Choir and the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the Swedish Radio Choir and The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

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