" Only the Sound Remains "
Opera and musical theater
- Nominated for : The Musical Composition Prize 2018
Kaija Saariaho is a prominent member of a group of Finnish composers and performers who are now, in mid-career, making a worldwide impact. She studied composition in Helsinki, Freiburg and Paris, where she has lived since 1982. Her studies and research at IRCAM have had a major influence on her music and her characteristically luxuriant and mysterious textures are often created by combining live music and electronics. Although much of her catalogue comprises chamber works, from the mid-nineties she has turned increasingly to larger forces and broader structures, such as the operas L’Amour de Loin and Adriana Mater and the oratorio La Passion de Simone.
Saariaho has claimed the major composing awards in The Grawemeyer Award, The Wihuri Prize, The Nemmers Prize,The Sonning Prize, The Polar Music Prize. In 2018 she was recognized with the BBVA Foundation’s Frontiers of Knowledge Award. In 2015 she was the judge of the Toru Takemitsu Composition Award. Always keen on strong educational programmes, Kaija Saariaho was the music mentor of the 2014-15 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative and was in residence at U.C. Berkeley Music Department in 2015. Saariaho continues to collaborate for the stage. Only The Sound Remains, her most recent opera collaboration with Peter Sellars, opened in Holland in 2016. In the same year her first opera L'Amour de Loin was presented in its New York premiere by the Metropolitan Opera in a new production by Robert Le Page. The Park Avenue Armory and New York Philharmonic presented a celebration of her orchestral music with visual accompaniment in October 2016. February 2017 saw Paris come alive with her work when she was featured composer for the Festival Presences. She is currently composing a new opera to premiere in 2020.
Opera and musical theater
For baritone and orchestra
This piece has been growing in my mind for several years; the music was emerging before I even started looking for the texts. This made finding the right texts difficult. I spent much time going through my favorite writers, but nothing I knew seemed to fit my project. I finally ended up using six texts from different sources, but which seemed to fit into my plan. The texts by Seamus Heaney, Traditional Indians and Mahmoud Darwish are interspersed in three short fragments taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Spiritual Laws, a collection included in his Essays.
My preliminary idea was to explore the baritone voice in the context of various texts, finding an organic way to access the different colors of the voice through the texts. It was also important to give Gerald Finley, to whom the piece is written and dedicated, a full range of expression. Even though the general character of the work was in my mind before I had found the suitable texts, it is finally these texts which define the vocal expression of the singer and the details of the musical material. It is only now after having completed the work that I see the common ideas in these contrasting texts: our being surrounded by nature, our perception of this and our being part of it.
Here, briefly, are some thoughts concerning the six movements:
Proposition I, based on a reflection by Emerson, is a syllabic opening section, calm and contemplating. The orchestral chords are like pillars built on the solo voice.
River, on the text by Seamus Heaney: melismatic singing draws the orchestra into a lively flow, into elastic verticality.
Proposition II is a short statement from Emerson, calm and expressive. This is the heart of the piece.
Lullaby, based on a traditional American Indian song, is a joyous and tender lullaby, not so concerned with getting the child to a sleep but rather with having a great moment together and telling a good story!
Farewell forms again a sharp contrast to the happy mood of Lullaby. It is dark and heavy, and the singing line breaks regularly down into slow speech.
Proposition III closes the cycle with a radiant image of us humans as part of the physical nature around us. The sensation of weightless energy elevates us high above the gravity.
Kaija Saariaho - Paris, April 14th, 2015
for clarinet and orchestra
The idea of a clarinet concerto for Kari Kriikku had been going round in my mind for some years. While I was composing my second opera (Adriana Mater, 2006) the clarinet part began to be increasingly soloistic, and I found the instrument was speaking to me in a new way. I set about planning a concerto but did not begin actually composing it until autumn 2009.
The form was inspired by six medieval tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn, in which each
tapestry depicts, with rich symbolism, the five senses and a ‘sixth sense’ – whatever that is
(emotion? love?). I had already seen the tapestries in the Musée national du Moyen Age (the Medieval Museum) in Paris while seeking material for my first opera, L’amour de loin, and their richness also inspired the exhibition La Dame à Licorne I held with Raija Malka the artist in 1993.
The tapestries are named after the five senses, and I have titled the movements of my concerto accordingly: L'Ouïe (Hearing), La Vue (Sight), Le Toucher (Touch), L’Odorat (Smell),
Le Goût (Taste) and the ambiguous A mon seul Désir, which could be translated as “To my
only desire”. The name and subject matter of the sixth tapestry have been widely interpreted and examined. What interested me in particular was an article* about the meanings hidden in the letters of the name of the sixth tapestry. One of these is D’OM LE VRAI SENS. This is medieval French and alludes both to the senses and to the true meaning of humankind.
All this was, of course, just the initial impetus for composition. Using the names of the different senses as the headings for the movements gave me ideas for how to handle the
musical material and for the overall drama. In the first movement (Hearing) the calmly breathing orchestra is interrupted by a call from the clarinet. ‘Sight’ opens up a more mobile landscape in which the orchestra gets into position behind the solo instrument to develop the musical motifs this supplies. ‘Smell’ is colour music. I associate the harmony with scent; it is immediately recognisable intuitively and the impression is too quick for thought. The clarinet languidly spreads its colour over the orchestra, where it hovers, transforming as it passes from one instrument to another.
In ‘Touch’ the soloist arouses each instrumental section in turn from the pulseless, slightly
dreamy state of the previous movement. This is the concerto’s liveliest movement, and the
most virtuosic in the traditional sense, and the clarinet and orchestra engage in a dialogical relationship. The fifth movement (Taste) is dominated by rough surfaces, tremolos and trills, which the clarinet serves to the orchestra around it.
While composing the last movement I experienced a sense of entering a new, intimate and
timeless dimensionality. The end of a work is always the last chance to discover its quintessence. I often approach it by stripping the music down to its most ascetic elements.
It came as a surprise even to me that the work began to come alive in its space, and that the clarinet – itself a unicorn – plays only some of its music in the soloist’s position. This appropriation of space became an inherent element of the work at the composition stage.
D’OM LE VRAI SENS is dedicated to Kari Kriikku, whose vast experience and frequent consultations were invaluable to me in composing the solo part.
Note from score
The general idea of this piece is based on the famous medieval tapestries called La Dame à la Licorne.
The subject matter is the five senses and the ‘sixth sense’. These six tapestries give their
names to the six parts of the piece, in the following order:
La Vue (Sight),
Le Toucher (Touch),
Le Goût (Taste),
A mon seul Désir (According to my desire alone).
Much could be said about the symbolism and metaphors in these artworks, as they are especially rich. More information can be found on the website of the Musée national du Moyen Âge, Paris (www.museemoyenage.fr), where the tapestries are exhibited.
In this composition the solo clarinettist adopts different positions in the hall. The general plan, to be adapted to suit different halls, is as follows:
Part I: L’Ouïe: the clarinettist is somewhere in the hall, among the audience or behind it, not
to be seen, only heard.
Part II: La Vue: the clarinettist approaches the stage.
Part III: L’Odorat: the clarinettist plays behind the orchestra, on a podium if needed.
Part IV: Le Toucher: the clarinettist starts playing behind the orchestra and approaches the front of the stage.
Part V: Le Goût: the clarinettist sits in the middle of the orchestra or in front, on a podium if needed.
Part VI: A mon seul désir: the clarinettist stands in front of the orchestra and leaves the stage.
The violin parts have also been written so that the musicians can leave their places, if wanted.
for large orchesta
The title "Laterna Magica" comes from the autobiography of the same name, the filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.
The book caught my attention after several years in the fall of 2007 when putting my library into order .. "
its on reading it that the musical motifs of variation in different tempi emerged as one of the basic ideas for the orchestral piece , that I then began working on it .
I started thinking about the allocation of time ,thinking about the magic lantern, the first device with which we could create the illusion of a living image: turning faster and faster the crank of the camera, the images so distinct from each other resulting in a continuous motion.
In musical terms, the different tempi highlight various parameters, the rhythmic continuity is growing relatively fast in tempo, while the refined colors require more time and space so our ears can appreciate them.
Working with tempi, I focused on different rhythms: a dynamic rhythmic material inspired by flamenco asymmetric structures of spoken language or the ostinato accelerated finally loses its nature and becomes a rhythmic texture.
In contrast to these materials dominated by a strong rhythmic identity, I use living textures without pulsation, without allowing to measure active time. These textures are identified by colored surfaces and airy textures , like the color of six horns that occur regularly between the orchestral phrases. This material and its use refer to the film "Cris et chuchotements" from Bergman, in which the transition scene is materialized with a red plan.
And even if the room is not inspired by the light, but a machine ,to create visual illusions, I found a passage in Bergman's book which particularly touched me. At one point , at the end of a chapter,he describes the different lights his favorite cameraman ,Sven Nykvist was able to capture with his camera.
Some of this text is found in my piece , in German - the work was commissioned by Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra:
"The soft light, dangerous, light like in a dream, living light , dead, clear, misty, hot, violent, bare, sudden, dark, spring like. The light coming through the window, the light going out, the right light, oblique, sensual, binding, bounding, poisonous, calming, sensuel. Light. "
(Das milde, Gefährliche, traumhafte, Lebendige, tote, klare, diesige, heisse, Heftig, kahle, plötzlich, dunkle, frühlingshafte, einfallende, dringend nach aussen, gerade, Schrage, sinnlich, bezwingende, begrenzende, giftig, beruhigende, helle Licht. Das Licht.)
for cello and orchesta
by Anssi Karttunen (January 11, 2007)
five movements: 1: Translucent, secret, 2: On fire, 3: Awakening, 4: Eclipse, 5: Heart of light
Writing a new work before its creation is always frightening even if there is no composer whose music is closer to me than Kaija Saariaho.
I know from experience that only after several interpretations of a new work I can describe in words my feelings about it."
I will try here to describe what I see and hear now, waiting for its first performance.
At first sight "les Notes sur la lumière" with its five movements do not look quite like a traditional concerto for cello. Yet if you look closer, we find the elements I like to think will make a great concerto: - The relationship of the soloist with the orchestra passes through a lot of radically different situations. - The cello has the opportunity to show its total adaptability. - When the soloist has important things to express, the orchestra offers him the necessary space and on the other hand, the orchestra also has its moments to deploy its exuberant musical colours.
The soloist is not "just" the hero of "Notes sur la lumière", he or she must also defend its rights, fight, lead, work with and sometimes be subject to the orchestra.
For all these reasons of "Notes sur la lumière" a rich journey that may well lead us to the heart of light.
I see two intervals of a semitone as important motives of the piece: the first is a "glissando" in fa hash to fa natural (natural) that begins the piece and returns by different paths along the Concerto. The second is a rising figure in do hash to re natural, which often interrupts the action and stops and the soloist. These two reasons seem to be stronger than any melodic elements. In the last movement of the simple note fa hash proved to be the center of the entire work.
Through the voice of the cello the first movement presents the secret world of the song, "translucent" stained by the orchestra divided into small sets. The second movement opposes the soloist and the orchestra in a fiery dialogue. The music is energetic and obsessive, the soloist refusing to speak at the same time as the orchestra.
The third movement finally wakes up the two of them in a large construction of bright colours.
In the fourth movement, the orchestra eclipses the soloist with dark sound waves. The Soloist has its motive do hash to re twice, to no avail. He finally chases the darkness with the third try that takes them directly to the fifth movement and the two embark on a journey towards the light.
Finally the fa hash becomes the heart of light, bringing the cello to the top of the sphere of absolute brilliance... or total darkness.
On the last page of partitions K. Saariaho cites "The Waste Land" by TS Eliot:
"I could not speak, and my eyes weakening, I lived nor died, and knew nothing, examining the heart of light, the silence".