Performance Monday, March 5, 2012 | 6 PM

Making Music: Kaija Saariaho

Voix, Espace

Zankel Hall
Residing in Paris since 1982, Kaija Saariaho has developed important artistic relationships that have furthered the range of her sensual, expressive musical art. Two of those partners join Carnegie Hall’s composer-in-residence on a concert that highlights her solo and ensemble vocal music, performed by ensemble Solistes XXI, paired with multimedia installations by Jean-Baptiste Barrière.
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The Program


About the Composer

Kaija Saariaho received her early musical training in Finland, attending the Sibelius Academy, where she first studied with Paavo Heininen. Her studies continued in Germany with Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber. In 1982, Saariaho went to Paris to study advanced computer music techniques at the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique / Musique (Ircam), the major European center for electronic music led by Pierre Boulez. Saariaho has since resided in Paris and continues her relationship with Ircam.

Over the course of her career, Saariaho has won a wide array of important prizes in composition, including the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis (1982), the Prix Ars Electronica (1989), the Elise Stoeger Prize (1999), the Grawemeyer Award (2003), the Wihuri Sibelius Prize (2007), the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize (2009), and the Léonie Sonning Music Prize (2011).

Saariaho’s music spans almost every genre. Her chamber works include two string quartets—Nymphéa (1987) and Terra Memoria (2006)—and several works for voice or solo instrument and electronics, including Lonh (voice, 1996) and NoaNoa (flute, 1992). Large orchestral pieces include the paired works Du cristal … à la fumée (1989 and 1990, respectively). In the last several years, Saariaho has been particularly involved in the composition of music theater works, starting with her first opera L’amour de loin (2000), and then continuing with Adriana Mater (2005), La Passion de Simone (2006), and Émilie (2008).


Saariaho’s music transports listeners into a sound world of rich and subtly shaded tone colors and harmonies that shape musical experience into passages of flowing rhythms. Listeners who attend to the subtle shadings of vocal production and its interaction with electronics will be richly rewarded.

Commissioned by the Opéra national de Paris and the Solistes XXI vocal ensemble, Écho! is scored for two sopranos, alto, countertenor, two tenors, two basses, and electronics. The text, by French author Aleksi Barrière (born 1989) alludes to a poetic form popular in the 17th and 18th centuries—the “echo” verse, in which parts of the text are repeated with changes or comments on its meaning. Saariaho chose to set the echo voice in the electronic part, with vocal samples suggesting distance or reverberation. Following Barrière’s poetry, the piece has three movements that explore the different aspects of an echo—from Greek mythology traditions to contemporary senses of sympathetic vibration. The vocal textures vary both within and across the movements, from imitative pairings at the beginning of the first movement to the unison whispering of the word cruel at the beginning of the third.

—Judy Lochhead

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Nuits, adieux

Nuits, adieux was first composed in 1991 for four vocal soloists and electronics, and was later arranged by her in 1997 for four soloists and mixed choir. Tonight’s version for soloists, electronics, and visuals was conceived in 2007. The piece explores themes of transformation—light into darkness, day into night, granite into flowers.

The text of the work comes from two sources: The text for the “Nuit” sections are taken from the dramatic poem Échanges de la lumière (Exchanges of Light) by contemporary French writer and mathematician Jacques Roubaud; the text for the “Adieux” sections come from Honoré de Balzac’s novel Séraphita. Saariaho designs the music around the four stanzas of Roubaud’s text and the single section of Balzac’s. The work begins with two pairings of “Nuit” and “Adieux” sections. Three “Nuit” sections follow, the middle one combining text from the third and fourth stanzas. The work ends with a final “Adieux” section. The sections are continuous while being musically and textually distinct.

—Judy Lochhead

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation


Written for soprano and electronics, Lonh was a preparatory work for Saariaho’s first opera, L’amour de loin. Inspired by a song by 12th-century troubadour Jaufré Rudel, Lonh explores the theme of distant love. For most of the work, Saariaho chose to set the music in Occitan, the precursor of modern French and the ancient language of Jaufré’s song—a compositional choice that enhances the sense of distance. Structured formally around the stanzas of Jaufré’s song, Lonh begins with a full presentation of the text; however, over the course of the work, only selected phrases of the text are delivered by the soprano—phrases addressing love, distance, and loss. This process of clarity and its withdrawal occurs in the musical structure of Lonh, as well. The opening of the work alludes strongly to the musical structures of Jaufré’s song, the soprano melody organized around the modal center of D. The modal focus of the opening gives way over the course of Lonh to more distant modal allusions, moving almost imperceptibly to chromatic melodic and harmonic constructions at the work’s end.

The music of Lonh consists of two strands: a solo soprano voice that is sometimes electronically enhanced, and electronic sounds. Of the electronic sounds, some are sampled from birds, voices, and various percussion instruments, while others are electronically generated. All sounds in the electronic part were produced at Ircam; the sampled sounds have been digitally transformed in various ways.

—Judy Lochhead

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

From the Grammar of Dreams

From the Grammar of Dreams exists in two forms, the first from 1988 for soprano and mezzo-soprano, and the second (tonight’s version) from 2002 for soprano and electronics. Both versions set texts by American poet Sylvia Plath: the poem “Paralytic” from the collection Ariel (published posthumously in 1965) and a segment from Plath’s autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar (1963). Both texts reflect on the depressive mental state, bordering on the surreal or paranormal.

Saariaho’s choice of texts came from a larger interest in the nature of dream states and the particular ways in which coherence and irrationality shade into one another. She explores this idea through textual renderings that both suggest and obscure linguistic clarity. From the Grammar of Dreams consists of five songs that distribute the texts in diverse ways across the vocal and electronic part; the delivery of both words and phonemes embodies a nearly manic contrast of mood.

—Judy Lochhead

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Tag des Jahrs

The first version of Tag des Jahrs is for choir and electronics, and in this arrangement by Rachid Safir, the vocal parts have been redistributed for two sopranos, alto, countertenor, two tenors, and two basses. The music sets four poems by German Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin that were written during the latter years of his life after becoming mentally unstable; in fact, some of these later poems were penned under the name of Scardanelli and given fictitious composition dates in both the distant past and future. These time discrepancies in Hölderlin’s poems fascinated Saariaho; she came to understand them as “visions of lived moments that pass in the twinkling of an eye and then vanish or transform into new, intensive moments.”

The work comprises four movements that follow the seasons, starting with spring. The vocal parts often move in rhythmic unison and feature imitative counterpoint: Saariaho chose a more “archaic” choral treatment because of the traditional implications of Hölderlin’s text. However, this more traditional choral setting is unsettled by the juxtaposition against the electronic part. The electronic part consists of sampled voices, birds, wind, and various other sounds of nature, as well as electronically generated sounds. The inclusion of such sounds from the natural world underscores the role of nature in Hölderlin’s text and serves as a kind of 21st-century text painting.

—Judy Lochhead

© 2012 The Carnegie Corporation

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Sponsored by Ernst & Young LLP
Kaija Saariaho is the holder of the 2011-2012 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall.
This performance is part of Richard and Barbara Debs Composer's Chair, and Making Music.

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