For much of the 18th and 19th centuries "aether" was thought to be an invisible substance that pervaded all of universe between celestial bodies. It was the medium through which light waves were thought to travel. The word itself looks back to Greek mythology. It means "pure, fresh air" and was thought to be the air of the upper atmosphere, the air the gods breathed. With Einstein’s theory of relativity the concept became outmoded, but it still lingers as a term referring to something remote, mysterious, invisible, and out of reach. Conceptually, Aether starts with a rather standard multimovement structure of a symphony or a concerto, but in the finished work this form is deconstructed and reconfigured. There are four primary movements. The first is a sort of nachtmusik where instruments from the orchestra play phrases that the violin imitates. In the second movement there’s a continual struggle between lyrical impulses and aggressive outbursts. The third movement is a sustained, lyrical slow movement where the violin soars above the orchestra. The fourth is an energetic, virtuosic finale. But that’s not actually how the piece unfolds. As the piece begins we hear very, very quiet, distant, mysterious chords in the strings, with the winds making ephemeral air sounds. It’s vague and atmospheric. It’s the medium which the four movements are contained; it’s the "aether" that surrounds the firmer, more concrete structures of the four movements. It begins the piece, ends it, and occurs between all the four movements. The movements don’t really conclude but just trail off into oblivion or, as in the fourth movement are interrupted unexpectedly. They float within this medium of aether. The violin is noticeably absent from these ethereal sections, except the last. Here the violin steps off the solid structure created by the four movements and floats into the aether, gradually disappearing into nothingness.
- Sebastian Currier
“The piece invited listeners to be present, rather than trying to dissect the form....The final cadenza was a thing of raging beauty, a last shout before the violin was subducted into the rising aether, which then faded to a long silence. A shout of “Brava!” from the balcony burst the dam; the hall overflowed with applause; the composer came out for a bow. With any luck, this piece will be heard again.” —Boston Globe
“This co-commission with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, written expressly for Baiba Skride, nestles a violin concerto on a featherbed of “ethereal” music, a ghostly effect produced primarily by soft, high string glissandos, wind players instructed to breathe through their instruments, and the piano scattering notes like stars. Though there are four movements, the ethereal music which constantly flows between and beneath them blurs the boundaries.” —Bachtrack