Wednesday 4 June 2014

Nikola White on Kaija Saariaho

In this blog post Britten Sinfonia's Artistic Planning Director, Nikola White, discusses how we came to commission Kaija Saariaho for our 2014-15 At Lunch series and her thoughts on the composer's style;

Kaija Saariaho

Kaija Saariaho has been on our wish-list of composers to commission for a long time and is the first Scandinavian composer we have commissioned. Scandinavia is such a power-house of cultural excellence, with the likes of Magnus Lindberg, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Pekka Kuusisto all making a huge impact in the music world. I find Kaija particularly interesting as she’s a Finnish francophone; she went to study in Paris at IRCAM and has lived in the city since 1982.

When creating the programme for our At Lunch concerts, we are aiming to present a series that provides a good balance of both established and new talent, plus a breadth of compositional styles and instrumentation. Kaija’s music is all about the sound she is creating – I understand that when she was a little girl, at bedtime she used to hear very distinctive music "coming out of her pillow" – I love the idea of this – and apparently she used to ask her mother to "turn the pillow off"!
We’re delighted to have the opportunity of presenting her new piano trio in January 2015 and also, whilst not at all imperative, it is very welcome to have a female voice in the programming mix – I know that Kaija has been largely disappointed by the difficulties that female composers and conductors sometimes still face, and is saddened by the lack of progress in this area.

In many of her earlier compositions she has made use of electronics (such as Verblendungen, 1984) and created a sound-world full of colour and texture. It's interesting to see that in some of her more recent pieces (such as Laterna Magica, 2008), that don't use any electronics, she still manages to create blurry lines between textures that convey almost similar effects. And her opera, L'amour de Loin (2000) has lushly beautiful moments juxtaposed with acidic dissonances, whilst still retaining a musical consonance.

Although she has written for large forces where the colours she creates are overwhelmingly beautiful (such as Du Cristal, 1989), I find her chamber and solo works equally exhibit a fascinating array of colours. I also like the fact that she often writes specifically for artists who she knows and I think her admiration for them comes across in her musical expression, such as the flute pieces she has written for Camilla Hoitenga, and the cello works for Annsi Karttunen. Given that our At Lunch programmes are very much focussed on the individual principal players, and tend to exhibit a very collaborative process, I am sure that Kaija will enjoy this aspect of the commission.

Nikola White
Artistic Planning Director

Kaija’s Piano Trio features alongside her Nocturne for solo violin in our At Lunch 2 concerts in London, Cambridge and Norwich in January 2015. Click here for full information.

Help commission Kaija’s new piece via the Musically Gifted scheme. From as little as £10 you will receive many benefits including your name in the score and updates on the evolution of the piece.

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