Commissioned by Dame Evelyn Glennie and The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. The work was premiered at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s New Music Festival by the WSO and Dame Evelyn Glennie (cond. Alexander Mickelthwate), Centennial Hall, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on 2 February 2013.
2222/4331/3perc/pno/strings + soloist
“Ho has created a lasting masterpiece of sensitivity and perception. And for those of us who shared our personal stories — our voices were heard.” – The Winnipeg Free Press – From Darkness to Light review
“An extremely moving tribute to a visual artist friend of Ho’s who died of cancer last year, From Darkness to Light emphasizes timbre over pulsation. Ho’s music and Glennie’s stellar performance of it offered clear aural proof that percussion instruments can be as expressive as strings or winds.” – NewMusicBox.org – From Darkness to Light review
“The New Music Festival audience rewarded the artists with a sustained and heartfelt standing ovation as many listeners fought back tears, overwhelmed by the powerful emotions of the piece.” – Paul McCulloch (Paul’s Winnipeg) – From Darkness to Light Review
“…we felt the room united in a state of deep meditation by the sweet music that seemed to come from the depths of the heart and rise like a long and confident supplication to the divine. The piece finished with a very long silence and nothing other than the fan noise and some coughing was heard, Ms. Glennie remained still in an ecstatic state during this time, and gently laid down her mallets. The applause began timidly, as if no one dared disturb this moment of extraordinary grace and wanted it to extend infinitely.” – La Liberté – From Darkness to Light review (French)
The Spectator – “Cancer, comfort, and a concerto that sings the journey”
CBC News – “Composer channels cancer experiences in new work”
From Darkness to Light: A Spiritual Journey:
In the winter of 2011, a dear friend of mine from Los Angeles, Luc Leestemaker (a talented painter and brilliant entrepreneur), was diagnosed with cancer. The disease was at such an advanced stage that there was little the doctors could do for him. Luc however decided to explore alternative ways of healing. After some inquiries, he found a cancer researcher at UCLA who specialized in this area. For the next year or so, Luc underwent an array of methods to cope with his condition – tone healing, meditation, incantations, shamanism, psychotherapy, and emotional healing (with the general understanding that any emotional pain locked away for a long period would manifest itself in the form of various physical ailments – the brain telling the body that something is wrong).
The year of exploration, research, and soul-searching left him changed in so many ways. He felt that the spiritual, emotional, and physical journey he underwent warranted artistic representation. As well, Luc believed in the healing powers found in art and music. “Over the last few years a large number of academic studies have shown the undeniable power that art can have in people’s lives and environments,” said Leestemaker. “Inspiring art can help lower blood pressure, stimulate digestion, activate people’s brain cells. In a medical environment studies have shown that art can have powerful and positive effects on patients’ immune systems and post-surgery recovery time.”
That was when he proposed the idea of having Dame Evelyn Glennie and I create a “symphonic ritual”, a work that expresses the horrors of cancer and the spiritual journey within. He knew of my interest in the music of indigenous cultures, and after hearing my percussion concerto The Shaman he believed that Dame Glennie and I would be the right collaborators for this project.
To prepare for the work, I interviewed numerous cancer patients and survivors to better understand the journey they underwent. They were all eager to share their stories with me in the hopes of helping others understand the profundity of their experience. From these interviews, I found there were many parallels: the initial concerns for their health, the emotional trauma of being diagnosed, the painful process of undergoing treatment, and the sense of peace and reconciliation they reached at the end. I had also discovered there were few artistic representations of this sort and almost no symphonic compositions that deal with this issue. Because of this, all of us (Luc, Dame Glennie, and myself) felt that this was an important project to pursue.
Through my research, I became more aware of just how much of an impact cancer has on our society. Many people, probably everyone I know, have been affected by the disease on some level – either first-hand, through friends and family, or through acquaintance
From Darkness to Light is my personal response to cancer. It is a large-scale work that expresses the horrors of the disease and the inner journey that one faces: the fear and uncertainty; the shock and trauma; the grueling process of overcoming it; and finally, the reconciliation that is reached at the end – the journey from pain and suffering to peace and acceptance. As well, it is a musical journey of healing. In this work, Dame Glennie and I decided to take the concepts of “shamanism” and “musical ritualism” that we started with in The Shaman to the next level. We felt that this subject matter warranted a musical experience of a different kind. Thus, we aimed to create a musical dream world where she would reprise her role as the “shaman” and incorporate elements of indigenous sound healing rituals. “Liminality” is possibly the best way to describe this journey – the middle stages of a ritual when participants are at the threshold of transitioning from their previous way of being to the new one.
For me, I have always seen Dame Glennie as a modern-day shaman. Her performances have been more than just visual or aural experiences – they are “spiritual” events that draw listeners into magical realms. Every performance she delivers is a wondrous journey that leaves audiences spellbound and spiritually nourished. Therefore, I could not think of a better musician than her to create the musical ritualism that this piece required.
Throughout the work, there are various sections where Dame Glennie freely improvises. This allows her to create her own “musical rituals”, thereby elevating the realism of the spiritual journey. As well, we decided to end the piece with her own composition, “A Little Prayer” (for solo marimba). Her work serves as the final stage of the healing process of this journey. It provides a sense of closure that transcends material existence while allowing her to make a personal statement of her own.
Order score and parts here.