Arctic, by Robert Honstein

Performance by: Mivos Quartet

Olivia De Prato, Violin
Joshua Modney, Violin
Victor Lowrie, Viola
Mariel Roberts, Cello

Video by: Adele Fournet
Audio by: Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio


Arctic (2013)

1. Midnight Sun
2. Polar Night

Arctic is a response to photographer Chris McCaw’s Sunburn series, a body of work exploring extended direct exposures of photo paper to sunlight. The long exposures, sometimes up to 24 hours, magnify the sun’s rays resulting in a literal burning of the paper. The result is an incinerated trace of the sun’s motion across a hazy, negative image of surrounding landscape. Combining pastoral beauty with a visceral physicality, the images evoke feelings of time, materiality and abstraction.

My piece Arctic responds to a pair of photos taken in Alaska, north of the arctic circle. Shot close to the summer solstice they are nearly 24 hour long exposures of the midnight sun. These images, huge 12 panel works, document the sun’s long, sinuous path across a barren, mountainous landscape. Arctic imagines both the midnight sun and the opposite phenomenon, polar night, or the 24 hours of darkness that occur during the winter solstice.

The first movement, Midnight Sun, is short and fast. Its relentless bright ener- gy continues uninterrupted, pausing only to catch quick breaths before push- ing forward. The second movement, Polar Night, begins slowly with a simple, undulating theme set against a long passacaglia figure. The music builds in intensity as flickers of color and grit emerge from the texture. As the inten- sity recedes we are left with the opening theme set against a slowly shifting harmony.

In both movements you will also hear traces of the burning found in McCaw’s photos. Musical lines dissolve into brittle color, harmony grinds into noise, and holes sometimes appear, recalling the seared photo paper of McCaw’s images.

This work was commissioned by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. The World Premiere was given by the Mivos Quartet in Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York City on November 20, 2013.