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Kaija Saariaho

Publisher: Chester Music

True Fire (2014)
Kaija Saariaho’s True Fire for baritone and orchestra was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, NDR Sinfonieorchester, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre national de France. The world premiere took place on 14 May 2015 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, performed by Gerald Finley (baritone), with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Gustavo Dudamel
Text Writer
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Seamus Heaney, Trad. Native American, Mahmoud Darwish
Chester Music Ltd
Soloists and Orchestra
Sub Category
Soloists and Large Orchestra
Year Composed
27 Minutes
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Programme Note
Kaija Saariaho True Fire (2014)
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.

Paris, April 14th, 2015

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This is a profound, important work. "True Fire" is darker, closer to her recent operas. Her harmonies don't so much glow here as present the remnant of an afterglow. Pitches bend. Strings shimmer yet feel static. Saariaho is no romantic. Her musical language is too cool, too probing and too subtle to let Emerson get away with a hopefully bright line like "We are all photometers." The woodwinds and percussion dampen the shine of violins.
Mark Swed, The LA Times,01/01/0001
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