Dorthin, wo der Himmel endet
For orchestra, a mezzo-soprano and a male vocal sextet (2000/2001)
For more than half of my life, I have been composing music for western instruments and voices shaped by training according to occidental musical perception. At the same time, I remain deeply rooted in my oriental culture. The resulting tension between these two poles is only bearable if I remain conscious of the fact that I am a stranger.
There are "bridges", and every time I discover one and cross it, I realize that there is no going back. "Dorthin, wo der Himmel endet" revolves, once again, around my estrangement from my native soil.
Several figures of Greek mythology have become my companions for a while already. I observe several aspects of Chinese Taoism in these characters, for example in Io, wandering and in exile. Another example is Oedipus, who, as an old man, is able to finally find peace and tranquillity far from his native land. Both of these mythical Characters confront us in our daily lives in modern society, and we find the chasm separating cosmopolitanism and xenophobia looming on into our modern world.
It was Homer who coined the term "barbarophon", he used onomatopoeia to basically say, sounds like "bla-bla" or "bara-bara"
"These people were called "barbarians", at first in ridicule, as if to say, "those of unrefined of vulgar language"
In this way, the stranger is cast aside as eccentric, irrational – or more simply and basically unable to communicate understandably: The stranger remains a barbarian.
In observing reactions towards foreigners in today's western societies, the question arises whether our way of thinking differs to that of the ancient Greeks: the tendency is not to promote equal right for everyone including foreigners, but to balance out the status of these 'Metoekes' according to a single criterion: that of their economic usefulness to the country in which they have found asylum. Economic interests continue to act as the gate – or filter – between xenophobia and cosmopolitanism.
Quotes from Julia Kristeva's book "Fremde sind wir uns selbst" (We are Strangers to Ourselves) published by Edition Suhrkamp in 1990.
Make no doubt about it – this is valid for contemporary music culture as well!
So when I compose music for an orchestra, the orchestra remains something foreign which I slowly absorb in a series of ongoing processes. It can become a part of me as I attempt to return the intrinsic individuality to each instrument, an aspect found in ancient Korean musical practice. Chamber music ensembles contrast with each other and thus create a colourful total picture. This is why it would be a fallacy to think I could set texts to music in a "linear" fashion, so to speak. The voices with their individual languages are brought to life in the Ensembles in which they merge – this is also true for my own experience of assimilating the German language.
Younghi Pagh-Paan (2001)
Six male voices:
3 Flutes (2nd and 3rd parts alternatively piccolo)
3 Bb clarinets (2nd part alternatively A clarinet, 3rd part alternatively Bb bass clarinet)
3 Bassoons (3rd part alternatively contrabassoon)
1 C trumpet
3 trombones (tenor-bass trombones)
12 1st violins
10 2nd violins
6 double basses
The Lyrics, which are sung in classical ancient Greek and German, were taken from several of Io's speeches in Aeschylus' lyric Drama "Prometheus bound", here reprinted in an English translation.
The score is set for mezzo-soprano and male voices.
What land is this? What people here abide?
And who is he,
Whither am I, half-dead with weariness,
Nay, but the end of my long wandering
When shall it be?
Always there were dreams visiting by night
The woman's chambers where I slept; and they
With flattering words admonished and cajoled me,
Woe's me! Till I plucked courage up to tell
My father of these fears that walked in darkness.
Must be put out from home and country, forced
To be a wanderer at the ends of the earth,
And from beneath his roof drove forth his child
Grieving as he grieved, and from house and home
Bolted and barred me out.
But I with darting sting-the scorpion whip
Of angry Gods-am lashed from land to land.