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Kaija Saariaho

Publisher: Chester Music

La Passion de Simone (2006)
Text Writer
Amin Maalouf
Chester Music Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
1 Hour 15 Minutes
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Programme Note
Kaija Saariaho La Passion de Simone (2006)
La Passion de Simone is an oratorio for solo soprano, choir, orchestra, and electronics.


I have been reading Simone Weil’s writings since my youth. The Finnish translation of her book Gravity and Grace was one of the few things I packed into my suitcase when I travelled to Germany in 1981 to continue my studies in composition. Later, I began to read her writings in the original French and also learned more about her life.

The combination of Weil’s severe asceticism and her passionate quest for truth has appealed to me ever since I first read her thoughts. La passion de Simone was specifically the result of collaboration with Amin Maalouf and Peter Sellars; together we chose the different parts of Weil’s work and life for the libretto before I began composing. Whereas I have always been fascinated by Simone’s striving for abstract (mathematical) and spiritual-intellectual goals, Peter is interested in her social awareness and political activities. Amin brought out the gaping discrepancy between her philosophy and her life, showing the fate of the frail human being amongst great ideas. In addition to Simone Weil’s life and ideas, many general questions of human existence are presented in Amin’s text.

La Passion consists of 15 stations. The idea for the form of the text and the entire work came from the Passion play tradition. This outer form is, however, the only similarity to the traditional oratorio, at least in my opinion. The 15 movements are different in character and structure, and they shed light on different moments in Simone Weil’s life and interpret some of her ideas. The soprano has the crucial role of the narrator. Weil’s own texts are presented in the electronics surrounding the audience. The choir and orchestra create the world in which live both the soprano part and the spoken words in the electronics part.

La Passion de Simone is dedicated to my children Alex and Aliisa.

© Kaija Saariaho
(translated by Ekhart Georgi)

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Tapiola Choir
    Dawn Upshaw
    Esa-Pekka Salonen
  • Ensemble
    Finish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Tapiola Chamber Choir
    Dawn Upshaw (soprano)
    Esa-Pekka Salonen
She conveys the text with intense presence, beauty and credibility, and with an incredible control of the voice that in itself becomes an image of Weil's uncompromising character. The quartet's two women convey the roles with radiance and nuanced sound. (…) The stage performance of all singers is pervaded with the same breathtaking participation in Simone Weil's fate. (...) The elements are tremendously well matched to each other, into a touching, shaking and thoughtful whole. The music itself has strong dramatic effects, such as when whispering, scratchy sounds suddenly open up in sudden stinging light. And when hopelessness takes over, a dense, vicious orchestral fabric provides a synaesthetic experience that no light can penetrate... More than one performance of this Passion de Simone should have been organized. This is a show that makes the Festival important, and that is rare to find anywhere, both in terms of its essential content and of its musical and theatrical qualities.
Bodil Maroni Jensen, Klassisk Musikkmagasin,01/06/2017
'La Passion de Simone' is, as might be expected from Saariaho, a rather electic musical composition, full of sound stimuli and rich, warm tones as a whole especially lyrical tone.,24/03/2014
Saariaho's music tries my powers of description. The Finnish composer is a harmonist. Her harmonies are not, these days, especially complex, but when combined with her ear for exquisite instrumental color, they create a world to which a listener is magnetically drawn. [...] Under Salonen and heard in the Disney acoustic, the score blossoms like a flower, and tragedy takes on tenderness and compassion. "SImone" is now a triumph for all concerned
Mark Swed, LA Times,16/01/2009
...the overall impression is that of a continually evolving prism of sound that emerges, recedes, blends, melds and toys with our aural perceptions in the most magical ways. In order to create such an effect, music of this sort must be minutely calculated, with the tiniest details of orchestral color and linear motion painstakingly worked out.
Peter G Davis, Musical America,15/08/2008 is hard to resist the sheer, misty allure of Ms. Saariaho’s thick-textured, rhapsodic music and the unusually inventive dramatic structure of this work...As always, Ms. Saariaho’s orchestral writing is wondrous. She masterfully builds shimmering, organic sonorities from multilayered orchestra elements that blend natural and electronic sounds. Her tonally wayward harmonies are alive with pungent dissonance. Yet, as the collages of orchestral sound flow by inexorably, they come across as grounded and elemental. And the soprano part deftly balances ruminative lyricism with conversational naturalness.
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times,14/08/2008
La Passion de Simone is a magical union of words, music and theatre: a creation of great beauty and drama...
Anna Picard, The Independent on Sunday,15/07/2007
Saariaho's music has a sensual beauty of its own. Its mysticism is conveyed in oceanic washes of orchestral sound dripping with tuned percussion and melismatic woodwind solos.
Edward Seckerson, The Independent,13/07/2007
In her new oratorio La Passion de Simone, the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho has hit on exactly the right subject for her gift. Saariaho's art is essentially meditative. Here, as in all her music, she presents us with beautiful and glistening sounds, tinged with something unearthly, which quieten and bewitch the mind.
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph,12/07/2007
Kaija Saariaho’s “musical journey in 15 stations”, commissioned for Peter Sellars’s “spirit of Mozart” festival New Crowned Hope, certainly justified celebration. […]if ever Weil’s rigour grew too fierce, Saariaho’s music moderated without sweetening the climate, with airy subtleties of colour, surging excitements and dissonances with a human face. What lies beyond subjective response is the work’s grave beauty. That, plus the power that results from a gifted composer in deep sympathy with her subject,
Geoff Brown, The TImes,12/07/2007
Kaija Saariaho's music is Finnish firewater laced with classy cognac. A pioneer, together with Esa-Pekka-Salonen and Magnus Lindberg, of Finland's avant-garde, Saariaho is now an adopted Parisian whose music fuses raw energy and sensuous sophistication. The Barbican hosts the UK premiere of her oratorio La Passion de Simone in July...
Hilary Finch, The Times,12/03/2007
Kaija Saariaho has written a tremendously impressive work with music from an emotional world. The musical theater travels through this world of quite remote feelings to an almost unbearably serious place, and the music goes relentlessly inside and becomes more and more withdrawn – a frightening music that seems to search for a calm inner path within a great emptiness, a path that does make something like integrity possible in a world where political and public statements no longer have any meaning.
Österreichische Musikzeitschrift,01/12/2006
For what Ms. Saariaho has produced is a meditation rather than an opera, with music that is mystical, angular, episodic, surging. Sustained tones in the strings or brasses, burnished with a kiss of gongs and electronic boosts, spread out a carpet of sound to support individual incidents, in which the energetic conductor, Susanna Malkki, often whips Klangforum Wien into an anguished frenzy.
Anne Midgette, LA Times,29/11/2006
Much of the essence of "Simone," though, lies in Saariaho's orchestral writing. She uses electronics to aid in producing a sound world of luminous resonances. Hers is a sonic clarity of thought that ideally illuminates Simone's clarity of thought. Yet Saariaho's sound, like Simone's spiritual flights of fancy, has an ineffable, shamanistic quality as well.
Mark Swed, New York Times,29/11/2006
In this context, the Finnish Kaija Saariaho, born in 1952, occupies a special and outstanding position. She expresses her often Christian-inspired visions in a quiet, reserved manner with a seductively beautiful music – free however from all roll backs to false comfort – which develops a singular intensity, compelling the listener to form an opinion. Because this art, with roots audibly hinting back at Debussy, Messiaen, even at the “Metamorphoses” of Richard Strauss and including computer generated sounds quite naturally, even taking them as a model for her live sounds played on traditional instruments – this art is far more than art. It is a philosophy of life, conveying an attitude towards the world that many find disturbing. Kaija Saariaho, on the other hand, stands behind Simone Weil with unconditional sympathy. The orchestra sounds paint Weil’s soul with tenderness and warmth. Here no contradictions and no critique is made known. Here one woman discovers and portrays the soul of another woman who is audibly close to her and with whom she passionately identifies. And this proximity brings forth an overwhelming richness of sounds and gestures, a variety and a tremendous coherence in detail and as a whole, which it is not only rare in newer music.
Süddeutsche Zeitung,28/11/2006
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