Curiosity about what deviates from the norm is a prerequisite in Peter Eötvös compositions. This is evident from, amongst other things, his renunciation of standard dispositions of the orchestra on the podium. In Shadows, sounds form objects in a space through which they move, stand out against each other, cast shadows and become shadows themselves. The key to understanding this imaginary theatre of "sound movements" lies in the selection of instruments and in their staggered arrangement on the stage, which follows a precise plan.
The small orchestra is divided into four parts. Two groups of strings are placed on the left and right of the stage, forming a distanced stereophonic layer of sound. In front of them, on the left, is the woodwind section, and on the right the brass: both groups face away from the audience and with their backs to the centre of the stage, where the protagonists of this "sound scenario" are to be found: flute and clarinet.
The instrumental groups act as "shadows" of the two soloists: the woodwind "shadow" the flute, the brass "shadow" the clarinet. Yet the division of instrumental space goes even further. The celeste forms a tonal shroud around the clarinet and the timpani, who are set up in the backgorund and in turn form the "shadows" of the small drum positioned alongside the solo instruments, which acts as a tonal and rhythmic prompt. finally, amplification through loudspeakers extends the differentiated stereophonic sound into the hall and, beyond that, into the listener's imagination, creating another imaginary space.
When playing pianissimo, the two wind soloists are meant to be audible only through the loudspeakers. This creates an intimate situation in which sounds whisper simultaneously in the listener's ears. The celeste and drums are assigned exclusively to this imaginary dimension of the speakers' sound.
A sequence of three strongly contrasted movements locates Shadows within the formal framework of the traditional solo or double concerto. The first movement ('Breathless, rushed') twice exposes a rising melody, which finally dissolves into background sounds. The virtuosic second movement, with its motoric rhythmes, has an almost jokey character. The confessional third movement, however, moves further into the 'Realm of shadows'. It begins with strings playing their lower registers in a 'Funeral Dance' (a traditional death ritual in Eötvös's native land, Transylvania, but also in Indian and Asiatic cultures) before the music flows into a long, intimate dialogue between the two solo instruments, leading to a cadence subtly enveloped in the sound of the celeste and a few other instruments. Here again, as in the two first movements, the final word is had by the small drum and a closing hi-hat: the withdrawal of sound into the shadow realm of noise.