Esthetic games as ends in themselves are far from the mind of the Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks. He believes in “L’art pour l’homme” [Art for mankind] rather than “L’art pour l’art” [Art for art’s sake]. He sees his music as a language of the soul: “Music is the most powerful of all the arts, because it is closest to the Divine. Music is indefinable, it is true, but sounds are able to express spirituality. This cannot be expressed in words. All around me, I hear talk about the body, but I want say: where is the spirit, the soul? Souls are as overgrown as a jungle. This is why I try to preserve a ray of light in my sounds."
“Sala – Island” was commissioned by the Magnum Opus Project of three orchestras in California. The conductor of the Santa Rosa Symphony wrote, “In the symphonic elegy, I hear the sounds of nature, with very fluid, long lines and modal melodies, somewhat like a Baltic folk tune. The 3+2 asymmetric rhythmic structure also gives it a peasant, or country-like, character. I detect some influences of Latvia’s geographic neighbors, like Sibelius to the north in Finland, and from Russia, Shostakovich. But the emotional immediacy and spiritual identification gives Vasks’s ‘Sala’ a language all its own.”
“Musica appassionata” begins – which is unusual for Vasks – loudly and resolutely, as if he were saying, “Clear the stage for my passion!” Without warning, the agitated “Opening Scene” changes into a calm and peaceful texture marked pp. Suddenly, the music takes on a restless, threatening character. As if a tiring mountain climb were over, an exciting new landscape opens up following a general rest. The strings rise to a collective climax, which at the dynamic high point unexpectedly breaks off. All that remains is contemplation and a silent prayer.
The composer wrote in the programme for the premiere of "Credo" in 2010: “The central episode is divided into two parts. The first is a prayer coming out of profound belief. The soft, measured orchestral song accumulates power and conviction as it unfolds. The culminating section of this central episode begins with sharp attacks on the tom-toms and accelerates. The orchestral sound continually gains strength [...]. The ‘Credo’ is crowned by a hymn-like song of praise for the almighty power of love. After a high point, the intensity of the orchestral sound gradually recedes. [...] Slowly the mood becomes more peaceful, and the piece fades away with a radiant melody.”