Rebecca Saunders | Yes

Yes is a reference to Molly Bloom’s monologue, the final chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses. This monologue can be regarded as a kind of literary collage, a web woven from the innumerable paths traced by stories, thoughts, and moments in a continuous, unremitting, high-energy stream: a snapshot, a state of being before and during the act of falling asleep, amid glimmerings of the subconscious.

The text flows with the inhalations and exhalations of the musicians, between moments of absence and presence. Though not always audible, the text remains subcutaneous, present, tangible. For moments at a time it emerges, becoming visible, audible, and intelligible, before disappearing again – just as moments of Bloom’s biography, her personality, her memories take on temporary form in her inner monologue, her stream of consciousness, only to sink back into the river of time.

The repeated “yes” is ambiguous and complex; it casts many shadows and alludes to many themes: the moment of half-conscious orgasm; the life-affirming “yes”; the “yes” that seals one’s acceptance of one’s fate; the memories of an unusually adventurous lover, and of the time when Bloom said “yes” to her future husband. These deeply erotic moments in all their facets, from romantic to soberingly grotesque, are depicted in the text in a variety of shadings, merging and overlapping with one another.

A singer stands on the stage – a theatrical moment in and of itself. The human body, our anticipation of it, of every movement of the eyes, the corners of the mouth – therein lies infinite potential. In Yes, both soprano and instrumentalists are viewed as protagonists in a sort of abstract theater, operating in a shared auditory landscape. And they interact with the text, whose narrative side is suppressed in various ways and transformed into a kind of sonic surface. The music implies, suggests, formulates, and defines ways of perceiving the words.

Twenty-five separately composed soli, chamber-music works, and ensemble pieces – the modules – are distributed throughout the space. Almost every module represents, with exhaustive persistence, an immutable state, enduring and fundamentally unchanging. Recurring sound fragments, subtly but constantly varying, gradually produce a complete picture. A gigantic sculpture arises, a mobile that persists, untouched, while it is perceived from the most varied perspectives: The light changes, as the focus and position of perception shift, as proximity to the object alternates with distance from it – the manifest, complex extension of a single object.

My desire is to create a music which steps out of the flow of time, which is projected into space like a sound sculpture – and which, at the moment of listening, enables total focus on the physical presence of the sound.

Rebecca Saunders, 2017 (from the program of the premiere on September 9, Musikfest – Berliner Philharmonie)

The worldpremiere of Yes took place on Sep 9th 2017 at Musikfest at Berliner Philharmonie.

The French premiere took place on Sep 28th 2017 at Festival d'automne à Paris.


The British premiere took place on 16.11.2018 at the opening concert of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival at Huddersfield Town Hall.

Photos: Kai Bienert at Musikfest Berlin

Live recording from Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival
BBC Radio 3, sound reording
Graham Hardy, camera and editing

Critical Acclaim

Oddly hoarse sounds, often from a falsetto bass flute or bass clarinet. A muted trumpet laying itself over them like a veneer, the thumping of a big drum sounding forth from a far corner of the room. Even more frequently, in this performance, sounds that are nearly impossible to locate. Where are they coming from, which instruments are producing them? The richness of Rebecca Saunders’s sonic vocabulary is overwhelming. And the fact that she developed that vocabulary in collaboration with the ensemble’s musicians definitely contributes to the sound’s beauty. For the musicians, these are personal sounds.
(Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Sept. 11, 2017)

Rebecca Saunders opens up a broad and expressive spectrum, without taking out any loans from the familiar rituals of espressivo. The enormously inventive, original, and masterfully realized vision, partly conducted by Enno Poppe, was … extremely well received by the audience.
(Berliner Zeitung, Sept. 11, 2017)

When the soprano and instrumentalists fan out across the stage and into the house, impressive spatial-sound effects are created, especially in the second half.
(Der Tagesspiegel, Sept. 11, 2017)

Saunders works intensively both on individual tones and with the sound quality of the different instruments: The tones produced by one are taken up by others, absorbed by them, so that the specific source producing the sound disappears behind the sound itself.
(taz, Sept. 11, 2017)

Puis ils se déplacent pendant les soixante-dix minutes que dure l’oeuvre , selon un ballet réglé au cordeau par le chef Enno Poppe, à la tête des musiciens de l’ensemble allemande Musikfabrik, don’t l’imagination sonore est sans limites. […]
(Le Figaro, 3.10.2017)

Cette approche très physique du son crée un théâtre instrumental hypnotique, sans tomber dans la facilité du happening ou du bricolage. Ou comment retrouver la dimension rituelle de la musique.
(Le Figaro, 3.10.2017)

Musique dont l’énergie raffinée s’impose comme une immense sculpture sonore tour à tour compacte ou transparente, Yes compte vingt-cinq modules variés répartis dans l’espace résonnant – « presque tous représentent un état immuable, d’une obstination épuisante, continu et toujours identique ».
(Anaclase, 28.09.2017)





Ensemble Musikfabrik with Rebecca Saunders