Easter Island
for fl, bcl, pno, 2vln, vla, vc (2008)
duration: 20’
GRT • 135

score available from
Australian Music Centre

program note
Easter Island (remotely located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean) is thought to have been settled by Polynesians around AD800. Its society rose and fell (without outside intervention) due to deforestation and the resultant strain on food supply. By the early 18th century the society was in a state of collapse and cannibalism, the population having dwindled to around 20% of its estimated peak. Giant stone statues still line the coast, elongated heads mostly facing inward and these too provide a fascinating artefact, adding to the intrigue of a unique society. Evolutionary biologist, Jared Diamond speculates that the collapse of Easter Island serves as a metaphor for Planet Earth and the probable result for our own environment if we follow the same path.

This piece is a meditation upon the story of Easter Island. Cast in one relatively continuous movement of around 20 minutes length, it is divided into the following sections:

prelude: uninhabited island
chapter 1: arrival
interlude 1: stone heads
chapter 2: expansion
interlude 2: premonition
interlude 3: stone heads (reprise)
chapter 3: collapse
postlude: ‘…to dust we shall return’

The piece was commissioned by the Australia Ensemble, resident at the University of New South Wales and is dedicated to my children Aksel and Hanna who I hope will inherit a peaceful and sustaining planet.

available on resources page

“Stuart Greenbaum’s Easter Island, receiving its premiere, was a thoughtful freshly-coloured piece, in what is often called an ambient style, although that word can imply simplistic harmony, whereas Greenbaum's ear revealed itself as more sophisticated. The theme of how the Easter Islanders destroyed their own environment through misplaced belief conjures up pristine purity and its opposite, and Greenbaum starts with a flute solo of disarming simplicity which achieved a sense of simple flow as the piano joined in. The simple but risky device of moving the flute offstage for the final close, was surprisingly effective: risky because in art one of the hardest decisions is to judge if a simple gesture will be touching or tiresome (here, the former).

The textures between narrated the toil by which the islanders created their destruction and were beautifully played, though Greenbaum exploited a small proportion of the tonal resources the mixed septet offered.”

Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald, March 2008

“The third program item was quite a change of scene. Flute, clarinet and piano were joined with string quartet for the 2008 composition “Easter Island” by Melbourne based Australian composer Stuart Greenbaum. With more than 200 works to his name, Greenbaum has worked in Asia, USA, Europe and Scandinavia, featured on more than 40 commercially released albums. Although his work spans a wide variety of genres (opera, concertos, symphonies and chamber) his preference is to contemplate remote or abandoned places on the planet, looking at them from a higher perspective. 

“Easter Island” is a cycle of movements played without interruption about the rise and fall of their society, speculating on possible causes of their demise. The work begins with a haunting, unaccompanied flute solo depicting early days before the society starts to grow. With possible influence of the Shakuhachi flute, the melody felt timeless and drew the imagination back to ancient times. Flutist Lisa Osmialowski really shone in this work. It was a chance for her to show her full capabilities in free flowing interpretation. Munro added a modest piano followed by Irina Morozova’s drone-like viola part. A fusion of cultures encouraged the imagination to play with the little we know of the Easter Island inhabitants. 

Greenbaum allowed a spotlight for each musician to stand alone and then to work together, sometimes tentative, sometimes swooping and bold; other times flowing quickly from one musician to another in a seamless scale. The crescendo and drama grew until the devastating blow when the society was finally lost. All is quiet again with solo flute moved to the rear of the auditorium, taking us back to memories of the opening notes. All musicians involved were outstanding and it was lovely seeing Greenbaum appear for the occasion, flying up from Melbourne. He received much appreciation from the audience and musicians alike.

When you look at the name of the group – Australian Ensemble UNSW – don’t assume you will get a performance of university students. These are premium performers, debatably the best there are in the Australian chamber music world.”

Annabelle Drumm, Sydney Arts guide, May 2022