Nostos was written in collaboration with the poet W N HERBERT, and was given its premiere performance by LESLEY-JANE ROGERS (soprano), FARRAN SCOTT (violin) & the Vigani Cabinet Ensemble in Cambridge (UK) in March 2007.

It was subsequently performed by students of the Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe at ZKM in Karlsruhe (Germany) in July 2007.


Text: W.N Herbert


Commission: Vigani Cabinet, Queens’ College Cambridge


Duration: 11’


Instrumentation: solo soprano, solo violin & ensemble (a small vocal group, three percussionists and strings (


Note: the solo parts were written for professional musicians, but the other parts were written with amateur players in mind and are therefore easier




it is always night

it is always in the night


in that good night




it is always there

the mother says there


always away

as we are hushed

we are pushed away

away from there




it is almost day

here is where

we almost say

how long

are we here

how long are we here for

are we here for

what we long for

how long are we here

for what we long for


we long for



we long for here



© Copyright 2007 W.N. Herbert

I    Lullaby

II    Nostos

III    from there to here

IV    Nostos


Nostos is the Greek word for “return”. Nostalgia combines nostos and algos (meaning pain).


This piece really began when I read Milan Kundera’s Ignorance a few years ago: he has a way of taking a tour through the etymology of certain words (nostalgia being one of them) in many languages to create multiple perspectives on one concept.

After meeting with the poet Bill Herbert we began discussing how we could work together on this concept. We threw ideas back and forth but what became gradually important was the notion of a sense of place. Not just of what or where the place is, but also different perceptions of the same place.

Kundera offers the reader a depiction of a character who has persistent daydreams and nightmares of the same place she longs, but also dreads, to return to. Although these ‘returns’ are fictional and in a way seem rather trivial - they are not odysseys back to the homeland - they are real and powerful none the less. And somehow a sense of stasis is forged by the nostalgic pulls to the same place, but with contrary emotions. It’s this two sides of the same coin approach that appealed to me.


Initially my idea was to place the three ensemble groups in different rooms, cut off from the singer and violinist – to encourage an audible pull. As the music developed, it became clear that the sounds would be too quiet and too discreet to enable this to work successfully. The solution was to place the ensemble groups around the soloists, still with some spatial separation, but in the same performance space.

And the music itself? I wanted to create and set up a difference, and at the same time a unity, between unvoiced, toneless sounds and voiced sounds. A commentary that can’t quite express itself, and the voice that tries to.

© 2015-2017  Naomi Pinnock