Light Cathedral is inspired by the many great European cathedrals that I was fortunate to visit during my four years living in England, with their paradoxical combination of massiveness and lightness. The guiding image is of a huge structure, heavy and earthbound; yet instead of stones or bricks, the building blocks are shafts of colorful light, weightless and floating.
The piece opens with three bell-like strikes, which become the starting chord in a kaleidoscopically evolving prism of high, resonant harmonies – shafts of colored light, blocks of luminous, weightless granite forming the structure of the building. High string harmonics emerge and float above, and a plaintive melody rises gently from the winds. This same material returns later, dramatically speeded up – we have zoomed in and see all the rich detail of the mosaics and frescoes, the whizzing protons that populate the shafts of light. Later it comes back low and deep, as we journey underground to the foundations and the crypt. This material alternates with gradually rising string chords that reappear at a range of different tempos, imperceptibly ascending from earth to the heavens; and a mysterious, vertiginous wind chorale representing the central awe-inspiring dome of the cathedral.
Rather than mimicking the physical structure of a cathedral, the work evokes the psychological journey of the cathedral’s visitor. We begin outside taking in the entire massive structure. We move inside, investigating the detail on the floor and the walls, visiting the crypt, gazing up in wonder at the dome. Finally, after the most prolonged, climactic return of the dome wind chorale material, replete with swirling harp and piano arpeggios and the rising string chords sucked into the vortex as well, the music turns inward to our subjective emotional experience of the structure. The chromatic progressions from the opening are transmuted into gentle diatonicism. The spare, plaintive wind melodies build into overlapping, yearning strings. The music winds down over an ever-descending bass line dirge. Just as it bottoms out, five more bell tolls awaken us from our reverie. We are back where we began, standing outside the cathedral, blinking in the sunlight.