Ka-las (2009)

12 minutes
Clarinet, Viola
Commissioned by counter)induction for their 11th Season


I. Invovation
II. Illumination
III. Meditation


The title of this work, Ka-las, is the Sanskrit word for “time” which, in its masculine singular form, is the central word in the famous line: ka-lo ‘smi lokaks,ayakr,t pravr,ddho (I am time, the mighty destroyer of worlds) from the eleventh chapter of the Bagavad Gita. In these lines that are the subject of the first movement, the prince Arujna invokes the lord Vishnu, imploring him to reveal the nature of his newly taken multi-armed form. Vishnu responds with the above quoted apocalyptical line. In the Invocation, this narrative is carried through recitations from both the clarinetist and violist in the original Sanskrit, starting, as many ancient invocations do, with a repeated command: “Tell me”.

The revelation of Vishnu’s new form as the “destroyer of worlds” leads to the second movement: Illumination. This is a reference to the radiant brilliance of the god’s form as well as to an earlier verse in the Gita that refers apocalyptically to the light of a thousand suns. The playing is virtuosic, the sounds and textures luminous and the character sometimes quirky, sometimes deeply intense.

The overwhelming momentum of the Illumination brings us to a brief cadenza for the clarinet and, as the movement continues to wind down, a hymn and, finally, the same cadence that punctuated the first movement.

After achieving Illumination, we come to the final movement: Meditation, which reflects lyrically and whimsically on something now distant. The tone is dolorous, even nostalgic and culminates with the voice of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer in his testimony following the successful testing of the atom bomb at Los Alamos: “… I remembered the line from the Hindu Scripture, the Bagavad Gita: Vishnu, trying to impress upon the prince his duty, takes on his multiarmed form and says ‘I am become death, the destroyer of worlds’. I suppose we all felt that, one way or another.”

— Mohammed Fairouz (2009)

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