News for Saariaho
- Sonning Music Prize 2011 for Kaija Saariaho
[posted 9 February 2010]
In Copenhagen it was announced that Kaija Saariaho is the 11th composer who is awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize.
The prize of DKK 600,000 (appr. $110,000) will be awarded to Saariaho in Copenhagen at a concert on 5 May 2011, at the DR Concert Hall with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Storgårds. Another Saariaho concert will be held on 4 May 2010, with Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen conducted by Pierre André Valade.
- Composer of the Year award for Kaija Saariaho
[posted 16 November 2007]
Finish female composer Kaija Saariaho was awarded the title Musician of the Year 2008. The award (given first in 1960) was announced by Musical America, the U.S. publishing company for performing arts.
The publishers say that Kaija Saariaho is among the few contemporary composers to achieve public acclaim as well as universal critical respect.
Influenced by Ligeti (especially the texture/micropolyphony pieces of the 60s). Works in this manner include Verblendungen (Dazzlings) for Orchestra and tape, and Lichtbogen for tape and ensemble (which is more melodic, with clear phrases emerging into the foreground).
Studied with Brian Ferneyhough in Paris, but took radically different avenues to her teacher. Main obsessions are connections to the visual arts,emphasis on (sort of) serial/deterministic techniques based on spectral analysis of timbre (especially string sounds).
Other works include a ballet, Maa, for instruments and tape in seven movements, for instruments only, tape only, and then finally all at once. Some evidence of neo-classicism (of sorts) and some incredibly subtle electro-acoustic techniques. (e.g. there is a moment when a chord on a solo violin appears to be ‘blown’ by the wind - wind appears, and the violin distorts in a particularly characteristic way - extra pressure on the string from the bow.)
Recently, a large orchestral piece, Graal Theatre (Grail Theatre), for the UK BBC Proms, with an interesting development: at one point, the strings (etc.) are playing normal chromatic music, but at a quartertonal ‘key’ (imagine a piece in ‘C half-sharp Major’ - same intervalic relationships, but centred on a non-standard tuning). The piano then enters, and obviously this is rooted in conventional tuning. The result is that the piano sounds out-of-tune. (It isn’t, as is clear from earlier in the piece - a unique acoustic phenomenon. Try using an electric shaver whilst listening to piano music for the same effect!)
Saariaho’s tape works include Stilleben (Still Life), which is a radiophonic work written for IRCAM (as was Lichtbogen, which is extensively sampled in this piece!). This explores the usual premises of ‘transformation’ so bog-standard in electro-acoustic music, but, exceptionally, the results are incredibly musical. (Subjective judgement, but perfectly true!) Lots of erotic vocal parts(including the composer’s voice) are included,quoting Kafka and others, and the music is very emotional in a direct way. Although this clarity and conciseness does not represent a clear progression (Graal Theatre is just as textural as Verblendungen), it is important in the recent works (Maa, Stilleben).The lyricism in the ‘new’ pieces resembles the British complexicists, Dillon and Barrett (not neccessarily a valid grouping, but useful as a generalisation, and both of their most lyrical moments belong to the same aesthetic world as those of Kaija Saariaho), whilst the more abstract pieces and passages resemble Ligeti and Boulez much more. The eroticism of the string-writing. however, is completely unprecedented, and her work should prove, at the very least in this respect, highly influencial in the coming decades.
Frequently, Saariaho incorporates tape and ‘electronics’ (usually meaning microphones, but used to great effect in her string quartet, Nymphea, which is part of an ongoing project called Jardin Secret (Secret Garden), and relates to programming projects she is undertaking at IRCAM), and the electric side of such works generally represents subversion of various kinds. In a sense, Saariaho is a ‘nature’ composer(!), but a radical one (no Vaughan-Williams here!), and the electronic in her work is a metaphorical reference to humanity in nature. (She seems to be very ambivalent to this, which I suppose could bracket her into ‘Post-modernism.')
Another important piece in her output is ‘Du Crystal...A la fumee’ (from crystal to smoke), which is divided into two pieces for orchestra and soloists (some amazing amplified alto flute work, just as good as Ferneyhough’s uses of the same; also in Maa - speaking through the flute, which normally doesn’t work at all, is implemented with her customary musicality and sense of the erotic.)
Kaija Saariaho’s music is some of the most innovative and erotic around today. She studied with Brian Ferneyhough and was originally influenced by Ligeti’s texture-pieces of the 1960s, eg. Atmospheres of Ligeti; compare Verblendungen of Saariaho. Later works contain more lyrical passages, with melodic lines clearly positioned in the foreground. (From Lichtbogen, an IRCAM commission, through to the seven-part ballet, Maa, in 1988.)
Her main obsessions are the musical implementation of the various radical streams in contemporary music, such as the use of electro-acoustic media and so-called extended technique, and also the exploration of natural and analytical stimuli.
The radiophonic piece, Stilleben, contains samples of the earlier (highly classical) Lichtbogen, for tape and small ensemble, and quotes from Kafka. The techniques of timbral transformation which can so often seem forced and uninteresting in electro-acoustic music in general appear far more stimulating in Saariaho’s music, particualarly Stilleben and Maa, in which the semantic elements, while abstract, are heavily laden with aesthetic purpose. (Usually erotic.) The various orchestral pieces she has written in the last five or six years have been among her finest works to date. ‘Du Crystal...a la fumee’ for Orchestra with amplified soloists is a sensual piece in two parts(performable seperately or together, as in the CD recording of it), and explores the main ‘extended technques’ she has become fond of, such as the soft(but amplified) delicate tongueing of the alto flute (probably Ferneyhough’s only real tangible influence on her work!) and the increased pressure in the string parts (esp. the solo). These are also present in great number in the ballet Maa, which is probably the most representative work to date, containing all Saariaho’s main concerns. The tape and electronic parts in all her pieces frequently take the form of subversions. This is apparent in the corruption of the solo violin in Maa,when the wind appears to blow a chord into distortion. (A haunting and beutiful moment in the piece, but subversion of ‘reality’ all the same.)
This approach can be better expressed as a metaphor: the natural world, which is present in the pre-compositional emphasis on spectral analysis and visual stimuli, is embodied by the purely acoustic instruments, whilst the tape and processors always evoke ‘otherness’ and mankind’s interference in the natural world. (She is ambivalent to this, making her attitude to it a sort of post-modern one, if such a term is useful.)
Even in a composer whose output is so obsessively linked to electro-acoustic media,the dichotomy of ‘natural’ and ‘manmade’ (a false dichotomy, but a poetic one) is very strong.
The recent BBC Proms commission, Graal Theatre, bears the mark of genius in its novel approach to microtonality. At one point, the strings (etc.) are playing regular chromatic music, but centred on an irregular (quartertonal) pitch, and then the piano enters. This means that the music, which is always non-microtonal, contains a bitonal relationship which is microtonal. The piano,entering in ‘the other tuning’ (the normal one!), sound at first out of tune, and the effect is absolutely stunning.
Clearly, Kaija Saariaho will be a formative influence on the music of the 21st Century, as well as one of its main initial protagonists.
Notes by Gregory L Fox at the University of Huddersfield, England. <a9350386hud.ac.uk>