The New York Philharmonic Channels the Chaos of the Cosmos

The New York Philharmonic Channels the Chaos of the Cosmos

The spirit of these disparate forces in play can be found in an early passage, which Ms. Thorvaldsdottir pointed to when asked to choose her favorite page from the “Metacosmos” score. Here are edited excerpts from a conversation about it.


Ms. Thorvaldsdottir’s favorite page from “Metacosmos.”

Chester Music Ltd.

Why this page?

It carries a lot of the elements that are global to the entire piece. The instruments are starting to figure out a balance they are coming into, but it is actually something that looks like balance that will become very unbalanced. It has a flowing texture of materials, which is in its own way representative of the piece but also some of these power elements, like this expanding and decaying effect that is represented in different ways. You see also the power struggle: This is about creating or finding the balance between chaos and beauty — and realizing that something perceived as beautiful is born out of chaos.

What is the thought behind your written instructions to the musicians? Like this: “When you see a long sustained pitch, think of it as a fragile flower that you need to carry in your hands and walk the distance of a thin rope without dropping it or falling.”

This description is something I’ve used in some of my pieces. It describes a state of mind: caution but determination, in a sense, so that you have this thing that you need to protect and carry, but it needs to be deliberate. I like to give performers just a bit of a glimpse of the way I think about some of the materials, with these atmospheric indications. When you’re seeing a score that you’ve never seen before and music that nobody’s heard before, it’s nice to have something like this.

This page utilizes the full orchestra. How much did writing for the scale of the Philharmonic factor into this piece?

They have a very specific, and a very strong, energy. More than many of my other pieces, this has a lot of power, being pulled in strong forces of rhythm and whirlwind, which is unique to this piece. Some of it is in faster metronome marks, in particular these percussion parts with all the orchestra going into chaos.

You mention chaos a lot, but the range of dynamics on this page is piano to mezzo forte, which is quite modest. How do you convey chaos?

Chaos versus beauty is built into the piece based on this power struggle idea. And for me, the chaos part is not knowing exactly what is going to happen. It becomes chaotic until it is released in the other world, on the other side.

Does tranquillity win out on the other side?

I think that’s up to each person who listens. You reach this, but does that mean it’s here and it will last forever? Or is there another question and will it continue? The piece ends here, but the resolution is maybe not perfect.

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