Decoding the composition
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The Double Percussion Concerto, titled The All-Seeing Sky, was written for and dedicated to percussionists Fabian Ziegler and Luca Staffelbach. The concerto was commissioned by Orchestra Wellington and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra in New Zealand, as well as the City Light Symphony Orchestra in Lucerne, Switzerland. In contrast to the grandiose fireworks-driven percussion concertos of recent times, I intentionally scored this work for a Mozart-sized orchestra, emphasizing a more intimate approach. The solo parts are limited to the marimba (soloist 1) and vibraphone (soloist 2).

Consisting of three movements, the concerto takes inspiration from various interconnected concepts. The phrase "The All-Seeing Sky" alludes to both the pervasive surveillance of the modern era and the notion of God as an omnipresent entity documented throughout history. The first two movements draw inspiration from Gustave Doré's captivating illustrations of Dante's Divine Comedy. "The Portals of Dis" evokes the inner realization of being ferried across the river Styx, arriving at the gates of Dis with a grand fanfare. The musical language of this movement carries echoes of antiquity, particularly ancient Greece. Having traversed the levels of hell, as depicted in Dante's Inferno, the travelers find the hidden road leading back to "The Upper World," symbolizing our bright and familiar reality. However, the unsettled ending of this movement suggests that our present world bears a resemblance to the imagined hell.

The role of the two soloists in the concerto is fluid and versatile. They alternate between virtuosic unison passages and treating their instruments as a unified "meta-instrument." They act as driving forces at times, equal partners with the orchestra at others, and even assume a background role of accompanying the orchestra, providing a warm and loving minimalist underpinning in the final moments of the second movement.


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The All-Seeing Sky: Concerto
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The All-Seeing Sky

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Project Details

The All-Seeing Sky

Double Percussion Concerto

Commissioner: Orchestra Wellington (New Zealand), the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (New Zealand), and the City Light Symphony Orchestra (Lucerne, Switzerland)

Dedication: to Fabian Ziegler & Luca Staffelbach

Instrumentation: mar & vib soli + 1(afl).2(bcl).1(cbn) / / timp.2perc / hp / str

Premiered by Fabian Ziegler, Luca Staffelbach and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra on May 14, 2022 at the Christchurch Town Hall, Christchurch, New Zealand

Difficulty Level:
Instrument Tags:
French Horn
Double Bass
Mixed Percussion
Bass Drum
Tam Tam
Tubular Bells
Suspended Cymbal
Mallet Percussion

Programme Note

The All-Seeing Sky

Concerto for two percussionists and orchestra by Ioannis John Psathas

Duration 22m
Written for – and dedicated to – Fabian Ziegler and Luca Staffelbach.

Commissioned by Orchestra Wellington (New Zealand), the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (New Zealand), and the City Light Symphony Orchestra (Lucerne, Switzerland).

In resistance to the fireworks-driven mega-spectacle of recent percussion concertos (some of which I’ve written myself), I’ve scored this work for a Mozart-sized orchestra and limited the solo parts to no more than marimba (soloist 1) and vibraphone (soloist 2).

There are three movements:

1. The Portals of Dis
2. The Upper World
3. The All-Seeing Sky

This concerto is inspired by a number of interwoven concepts. The phrase The All-Seeing Sky refers to both the omnipresent technological surveillance of the 21st century, and the ‘other’ omnipresence, God in his/her/its/their myriad historical chroniclings.

Gustave Doré’s spell-binding illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy inspired the first two movements. The Portals of Dis depicts the (imagined) inner realisation that one is actually being ferried across the river Styx, to arrive – with a great welcoming fanfare – at the gates of Dis. The musical language of this movement is evocative of antiquity, particularly ancient Greece.

After having traversed the many levels of hell, the travellers in Dante’s Inferno find the hidden road that provides the way back to The Upper World – and emerge back into our world, the bright world. The unsettled nature of the ending of this movement suggests that the world we live in now has more than a passing resemblance to hell as we imagine it.

The role of the two soloists in this concerto is fluid. At times the soloists play in virtuosic unison, and sometimes their two instruments
are treated as one ‘meta-instrument’. Often the two soloists are foreground drivers of the music, at other times they are equal partners with the orchestra. And sometimes they take on a background role of accompanying the orchestra (at the end of second movement, for example, the two soloists are providing a warm, quietly supporting and loving minimalist underpinning for the orchestra’s final utterances).

Full Instrumentation

Soloist 1: Marimba

Soloist 2: Vibraphone (motor required)

Flute (dbl. Alto Flute)
Clarinet 1 (Bb + A)
Clarinet 2 (Bb + A) (dbl. Bb Bass Clarinet)
Bassoon (dbl. ContraBassoon)

2 Horns in F
2 Trumpets in C

2 Percussion * Timpani



* Percussion:
Bamboo Sticks/Pu’illi (played simultaneously with Bass Drum by one player in Mvmt 3) Bass Drum (large)
TamTam (large) (played simultaneously with Bass Drum by one player in Mvmt 2) Tubular Bells (D3, Eb3, F3, F#3, G3)
Suspended Cymbal (wool mallets)

Transposing percussion instruments are notated at written pitch


Interview with Francesca Lee at the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra just before the world premiere on May 14th, 2022

John Psathas describes himself as a “pretty doom and gloom kind of person”.

This, and a re-read of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem The Divine Comedy with Gustave Doré’s engravings contributed to the tone of Psathas’ brand-new concerto for double percussion, The All-Seeing Sky.

The world premiere of The All-Seeing Sky Double Percussion Concerto will be performed by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra in their first concert of 2022, on 14 May and featuring Swiss percussionists Fabian Ziegler and Luca Staffelbach who will be making their Aotearoa New Zealand debut.

The idea for the concerto didn’t actually begin in Dante’s dark forest where the poet proceeds to descend through the nine circles of Hell where he meets various damned souls. Rather, this is the culmination of a series of successful collaborations between Psathas and Swiss percussionist Fabian Ziegler, who was keen to have a concerto written for him and fellow percussionist Luca Staffelbach.

“One of the things that we talked about was how, generally, when orchestral presenters talk with percussionists about doing a percussion concerto, they run screaming because, [percussion concertos] use so much gear, so many instruments,” Psathas explains “Often, because the percussion itself is so powerful as a solo instrument, that the orchestra also has to be quite large.”

He and Ziegler came up with the idea of a “user-and-presenter-friendly percussion concerto” that “pulled everything back”, with an orchestra slightly smaller than those of Mozart’s era and “limited solo percussion”.

Psathas finds his process of writing music intuitive, and he usually doesn’t start with a theme. However, the first thirty-seconds of The All-Seeing Sky evoked a feeling of antiquity and ancient times for him and, combined with the imagery from The Divine Comedy, he started to develop an idea of actually being in the boat crossing the River Styx going to hell.

“That’s the mood of that first movement, there’s this very subdued ‘oh wow, this is actually happening’ feeling. And then there’s the climax of that movement which is thinking of it from the perspective of those that are waiting for you; that they would pull out the trumpets and give you a fantastic fanfare, saying, ‘Welcome’.”

The concerto then proceeds to explore the idea that there are far more similarities between the ‘Upper World’ of Earth and Hell than one would like to admit, with the third movement bringing together the idea of constant surveillance.

“[It] pulls together the idea of how we allow a supernatural entity – any one of a number of versions of the idea of god – or the way that devices allow the presence of others, whether they’re corporations, or software owners, or individuals we connect with, to actually colonise and populate our inner subjectivities.

“What’s interesting for me is that religions have weakened a lot in the last 300 years and the vacuum that’s been created by this has been filled in with other things, and one of them is this new, incredible – and I don’t necessary mean this in a positive way – technological connecting of people and invasion of privacy. It’s like we’re constantly being monitored and observed.”

However, it’s not all just doom and gloom...

“You have to listen to the end of the concerto because, no matter how deep or dark or how tragic the whole thing gets, for me, there always has to be an underlying positivity about it. There’s a Greek concept, ‘the gladdening sorrow’ – this idea that in our lives, we are always moving between these states of gratitude for being alive and sorrow for understanding all of the ill that’s in the world,” Psathas explains.

“The thing is, we need both of them; the glad and the sorrow. I would say that, definitely, this concerto and a lot of my work encapsulates that concept, but what wins is always the positive. That’s actually quite a naïve view of the world, to think that the good will always win, but I can’t let go of that. To let go of optimism and positivism is the worst alternative.”

The All-Seeing Sky: Concerto for Double Percussion, by John Psathas, will be performed in Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: Angel of Light, on Saturday 14 May, 7.30pm, at the Christchurch Town Hall. Featuring the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, Fabian Ziegler and Luca Staffelbach (percussion), and conducted by CSO Chief Conductor Benjamin Northey.