The next piece in my Lent Series is concerned with not just the possibility but the occasional necessity of having to progress through darkness. Some Paths Will Always Lead Through the Shadows was composed by Elis Hallik in 2021, and takes as inspiration words by poet Doris Kareva:
Bitter and scarce is the northern light.(translation: Tiina Aleman)
The sledge here is drawn by heavy shadows,
the owls and wolves keep watch.
A word crunches between the teeth. [—]
What I’m talking about, is
the dance of the dust mote
in the immeasurable sun.
Appropriately, Hallik’s music is both nocturnal and tentative, the members of the ensemble tending to huddle together, their movements consistently twitchy and trembling. In a way, that short description pretty much sums up the entire piece, but there are various aspects that make the music extremely compelling.
First is the balance between this endemic nervousness and an instinctual urge to sing. After an opening minute of drawn-out tones, itchy lower register sounds and high gestural shapes, melodic lines begin to emerge. Once present, they never disappear, leading to what amounts to a tremulous but united lyrical sensibility. As i commented in my original review of the piece, this brings to mind Boulez’s Dérive I (which uses an almost identical line-up of instruments), establishing a lovely paradoxical attitude that’s simultaneous demonstrative and uncertain.
There’s also the fact that, despite moving slowly, Hallik’s material seems surprisingly slippery, hard to get a firm grip on. This is partly due to the fact that the ear is continuously pulled from instrument to instrument – there’s a huge amount of inner detail – as well as, i suspect, a side-effect of the smooth / trembling nature of the music. Another cause might be down to the aspect of the piece that makes it so deeply immersive: the fact that, once begun, the music never relaxes or pauses for even a moment. Its continuity is absolute; all seven players keep going, doggedly, taking turns to apparently gain or lose confidence, to sustain or sing. Yet somehow, an overall stability is maintained, and the combined effect is genuinely mesmeric, lending the music an endless quality, as if it could continue like this ad infinitum. Tensions arise and the ensemble becomes fraught later on, but considering that the entire soundworld of Some Paths Will Always Lead Through the Shadows is a heightened one, dynamic fluctuations seem an inevitable, integral part of the group dynamic, suggesting the ‘shadows’ may be less to do with some unknown external force or presence than a simple consequence of internal stresses and pressure.
The more time i’ve spent with this piece, the more i’ve been captivated by its particular flavour of deepest, darkest lyricism, and by the implication it conveys about the progress that can be made when a group takes the plunge and, despite their fears, just keeps going.
The world première of Some Paths Will Always Lead Through the Shadows was given by the Lithuanian ensemble Synaesthesis in April 2021, at an online concert as part of the first Baltic Music Days.