Year: August 2019
Instrumentation: Orchestra & Choir

Laniakea exists in three orchestrations:

Orchestration 1: Wind: 3333 Brass: 4331, 2 Timp, 3 Perc., Harp, Celeste, SSA Choir, Strings

Orchestration 2: (for performance in Galway September 2020) Wind: 1202 Brass: 2200 Timp, Strings

Orchestration 3: (for performance by the Ulster Orchestra in January 2021) Wind: 3222 Brass: 4331 Timp, 2 Perc., Harp, Piano, Strings

Duration: 4:00

Performance History: Selected for a call for scores by Coole Culture, The Royal Astronomical Society, and Culture Ireland for Galway European Capital of Culture 2020. Premiere in Coole Park, Galway, Sep 26th 2020. Second performance by the Ulster Orchestra in Nov 2021, broadcast on Radio 3 Breakfast on 16th Feb 2022: listen here from 1:51:00.

Version 2 of Laniakea is performed at 8:30″


In September 2014 a group of astronomers, led by R. Brent Tully of the University of Hawaii, published a new definition of the Milky Way’s location in the universe, placing us on the corner of a super-cluster structure which they named Laniakea (Hawaiian for immense heaven). Laniakea contains over 100,000 galaxies which are being attracted or repelled by its central gravitational point – an anomaly designated The Great Attractor. My piece draws on this recent development in the understanding of our place in the universe, aiming to use the choir and large orchestral forces as a visceral depiction of the vastness which surrounds us. The text is taken from the Irish translation of Psalm 19:1 ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork’. This Psalm is in two parts: the writer reflecting first on the glory of God in the created world, and then his glory in the Word he has given. Having already set the second half of this text in my choral piece More than Gold, it seemed appropriate to incorporate the theme of creation from the first part of the text into this new work.

As Holst so powerfully and effectively does in The Planets, I have tried to create a piece that – though for large forces – draws on simple materials. The opening piccolo motif, which permeates most of the work, uses the pitches la-mi-fa-re-fa, a tonic sol-fa translation of the word La-ni-a-ke-a. These pitches function as the structural foundation as well: gravitational pitches that pull and repel the music towards certain areas. My debt to Holst (and his nifty orchestration tricks) is acknowledged with brief allusions to musical materials from Jupiter and Mars.

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