Kevin Lau: Under A Veil Of Stars

Album cover art for upc 3191684102252
Label: Leaf Music
Catalog: LM273

Park, Angela; St. John-Mercer-Park Trio; St. John, Scott; Mercer, Rachel

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

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