Even before Moments in Human Life's first note is heard in a concert hall, its unusual instrumentation is apparent on stage. Two violins, viola, and cello – the classic formation of a string quartet – are joined by the three iconic East Asian zithers; koto, guzheng, and kayagum, as well as various Korean percussion instruments. The East Asian instruments in this piece constitute the unique formation of the ensemble IIIZ+ which is one of the two ensembles that have commissioned Moments in Human Life, the other one being UnitedBerlin.
I am closely connected with both of these remarkable ensembles. It has been an honor for me that UnitedBerlin has repeatedly premiered my pieces since the early 1990s. UnitedBerlin, in fact, premiered my first string quartet composition entitled Still-Life. Andreas Bräutigam, the director and founder of UnitedBerlin played the German premiere of my violin sonata A Hard Day's Night, in the violin makers' town of Markneukirchen in a concert which through it's incredibly warm reception thanks to his masterful interpretation, has ingrained itself into my memory. UnitedBerlin also played the European premieres of Springbrunnen and The Displacement Map. Mr. Bräutigam also travelled to Alaska to participate in the World premiere of my Alaskan pansori, Klanott and the Land Otter People, which like The Displacement Map was a CrossSound commission and included Asian instruments. Koto was featured in The Displacement Map and guzheng as well as a Korean singer were featured in Klanott and the Land Otter People alongside Western classical instruments.
As fate will have its will, my piece Three Zithers and a Pair of Scissors, for koto, kayagum, changgu, and guzheng actually caused the conception of the ensemble IIIZ+ upon its commissioning by Jocelyn Clark for the Harvard Asia Center after she had premiered my piece, Strands, for trombone and koto. Later she played the Asian premiere of Sir Donald, and participated in the World premieres of Der Nachmittag eines Gärtners and It Lightens, it Brightens… . Jocelyn Clark introduced me to the fascinating and rich world of Asian zithers and Asian music in general, that has since played a significant role in my aesthetic and musical development. Together we founded CrossSound as an experimental playground for our cross-cultural fantasies rooted in our own multi-facetted intercultural experiences.
In my understanding, both ensembles, IIIZ+ and UnitedBerlin, have in common the fact that they were each founded with the goal of exhibiting divergent works together in order to further discover the distinct aesthetic experiences of their respective founders, Andreas Bräutigam and Jocelyn Clark.
For over thirty years, Andreas Bräutigam has been a violinist in the Komische Oper Orchestra that was located in the old East-Berlin. He founded UnitedBerlin as a reaction to the aesthetic pluralism that flooded the realm of his experience at the moment the Berlin wall came down in 1989. Jocelyn Clark grew up in Juneau playing oboe in the Juneau Symphony Orchestra. Later, she gained intimate exposure to all but three of the major East Asian cultures through studying their musics by learning their instruments, the koto from Japan, the guzheng in China, and at last the kayagum in Korea.
Jocelyn Clark also introduced me to the work of Korean writer Yi Mun-Yol. In his truly operatic novel "The Poet," he explores the changes in the aesthetics and life-experiences of the protagonist within a constantly changing Korea that vacillates between monarchy and communism in a place where enemies become friends and family members become strangers. One of the central roles in the "The Poet" is played by a poem, one line of which I have listed on each piece's title page in each of the two pieces in Moments in Human Life. In Perching, one sees the line "Birds at dusk perch to sleep on a bough", and in Soaking one sees "What's the use of soaking your sleeves with tears?".
(Stefan Hakenberg, 2009)