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Kaija Saariaho

Publisher: Chester Music

Laterna Magica (2008)
This work has been commissioned by Stiftung Berliner Philharmoniker and Lucerne Festival. The world premiere was given at the Berliner Philharmonie by the Berliner Philharmoniker on August 28 2009. The second performance was given by the Berliner Philharmoniker at Lucerne Festival on September 2 2009
Chester Music Ltd
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
20 Minutes
Programme Note
Kaija Saariaho Laterna Magica (2008)
Laterna Magica (The Magic Lantern) alludes to the autobiography of the same name by film director Ingmar Bergman. The book caught my eye after many years whilst I was tidying my bookcases in autumn 2007.

In time, as I read the book, the variation of musical motifs at different tempos emerged as one of the basic ideas behind the orchestral piece on which I was beginning to work. Symbolising this was the Laterna Magica, the first machine to create the illusion of a moving image: as the handle turns faster and faster, the individual images disappear and instead the eye sees continuous movement.

Musically speaking, different tempos underline different parameters: the rhythmic continuity is accentuated at relatively fast tempos, whereas delicate shades require more time and space for the ear to interpret and appreciate them.

While I was working with tempos, rhythms with different characters became a major part of the piece’s identity: a fiery dance-rhythm inspired by flamenco, a shifting, asymmetrical rhythm provided by speech and an accelerating ostinato that ultimately loses its rhythmic character and becomes a texture.
In contrast to this, there emerged music without a clear rhythm or pulse. This material is dominated by strongly-sensed colourful planes and airy textures, such as the unified colour of six horns, which divides the orchestral phrases. This use of horns points to Bergman’s film Cries and Whispers, in which the scenes are often changing through sequences of plain red colour.

When reading the autobiography I was also touched by the way Bergman described the different lights which his favourite photographer, Sven Nykvist, was able to capture with his camera. Part of the text found its way into the piece in German – for the work was commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic. The extract, in English, goes as follows:

Gentle, dangerous, dream-like, lively, dead, clear, hazy, hot, strong, naked, sudden, dark, spring-like, penetrating, pressing, direct, oblique, sensuous, overpowering, restricting, poisonous, pacifying, bright light. Light.

Paris, 22 March 2010
Kaija Saariaho

Preview the score

  • Soloist(s)
    Kari Kriikku (clarinet), Anu Komsi (soprano)
  • Ondine:
  • 02 FEB 2019
    Konserthus, Malmö, Sweden
    Malmö Music Academy’s Symphony Orchestra
    Ruth Reinhardt, conductor
  • 26 OCT 2018
    In Focus: Kaija Saariaho
    Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (7.30pm)
    BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
    Jan Lehtola, organ; Ludovic Morlot, conductor
  • 12 JUN 2018
    Palacio de Congresos de Badajoz, Spain
    Orquesta de Extremadura
    Pedro Halffter, conductor
  • 11 FEB 2018
    Le Quai, Agers, France
    Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire
    Pascal Rophé, conductor

    Other Dates:
    13 February - La Cité, Nantes, France
  • 25 JAN 2018
    Konserthuset, Stockholm, Sweden
    Kungliga Filharmonikerna
    Sakari Oramo, conductor

    Other Dates:
    27 January - Konserthuset, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 25 SEP 2017
    Wilhelmshaven, Germany
    Junge Deutsche Philharmonie
    Jukka-Pekka Saraste, conductor

    Other Dates:
    27 September - Berlin, Germany
    28 September - Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany
    29 September - Aschaffenburg, Germany
    30 September - Heidelberg, Germany
    1 October - Hannover, Germany
    3 October - Bratislava, Slovakia
  • 31 MAY 2014
    New Directions Festival
    New Directions Festival, Sweden
    Oulu Symphony Orchestra
    Johannes Gustavsson, conductor
  • 03 NOV 2013
    Montreal, Canada
    Mcgill University
    Alexis Hauser, conductor
  • 03 NOV 2013
    Montreal, QC, Canada
    Mcgill University
    Alexis Hauser, conductor
  • 03 NOV 2013
    Montreal, QC, Canada
    Mcgill University
    Alexis Hauser, conductor
  • 19 APR 2013
    Cité de la Musique, Paris
    L'Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
    Anu Komsi (soprano); Santtu-Matias Rouvali, conductor
  • 19 JAN 2013
    Laterna Magica Country Premiere
    Canovas Theatre, Malaga, Spain
    Malaga Philharmonia Orchestra
    Justo Sanz; José Ramón Encinar, conductor
  • 06 SEP 2012
    Teatro Regio Torino, Torino ITALY
    Filarmonica 900
    José Ramón Encinar, conductor

    Other Dates:
    7 September - Teatro Regio Torino, Torino ITALY
  • 17 JUL 2012
    Royal Albert Hall, London
    BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
    Juanjo Mena, conductor
  • 12 JUN 2012
    Laterna Magica
    Mirage Country Premiere
    Tampere Hall
    Tampere Philharmonic
    Hannu Lintu, conductor

    Other Dates:
    14,16 June - Tampere Hall
  • 23 MAY 2012
    Laterna Magica New York Premiere
    Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
    The Cleveland Orchestra
    Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
  • 25 APR 2012
    Jyväskylä, Finland
    Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä
    Atso Almila, conductor

    Other Dates:
    26 April - Kuopion, Finland
  • 24 FEB 2012
    Gothenburg Concert Hall, Gothenburg, Sweden
    Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra
    Juanjo Mena, conductor
  • 23 FEB 2012
    Laterna Magica Country Premiere
    Gothenburg Concert Hall, Gothenburg, Sweden
    Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
    Juanjo Mena, conductor
  • 02 FEB 2012
    Severance Hall, Cleveland, USA
    Cleveland Orchestra
    Franz Welser-Möst, conductor

    Other Dates:
    3-5 February - Severance Hall, Cleveland, USA
  • 02 FEB 2012
    Laterna Magica US Premiere
    Cleveland, OH
    Cleveland Orchestra
    Franz Welser-Möst, conductor

    Other Dates:
    23 March - Cleveland, OH
  • 04 DEC 2011
    Köln Philharmonie, Germany
    Markus Stenz, conductor

    Other Dates:
    5,6 December - Köln Philharmonie, Germany
  • 05 MAY 2011
    Studie 1, Koncerthuset, Copenhagen
    Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    John Storgårds, conductor
  • 05 MAY 2011
    Laterna Magica Country Premiere
    Toronto, Canada
    Toronto Symphony Orchestra
    Karita Mattila, soprano; Anssi Karttunen, cello ; Hannu Lintu, conductor

    Other Dates:
    7 May - Toronto, Canada
  • 19 NOV 2010
    Perth, Australia
    West Australia Symphony Orchestra
    Paul Daniel, conductor

    Other Dates:
    20 November - Perth, Australia
  • 23 JUL 2010
    Rheingau Musik Festival
    Wiesbaden, Germany
    SWR Radio-Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
    Camilla Hoitenga, flute; Susanna Mälkki, conductor
  • 16 JUL 2010
    Freiburg, Germany
    SWR SO Freiburg
    Susanna Mälkki, conductor
  • 23 APR 2010
    Estonia Kontserdisaal, Tallinn, Finland
    Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
    Sakari Oramo, conductor
  • 21 APR 2010
    Laterna Magica Country Premiere
    Finlandia Hall, Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    Sakari Oramo, conductor
  • 04 SEP 2009
    Schleswig Holstein Festival
    Lübeck, Germany
    Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
    Sir Simon Rattle, conductor

From breathlessness to exaggerated breathiness, Kaija Saariaho’s Laterna Magica requires the wind players to blow noisily into their instruments. The work superimposes motifs played at different tempi, an idea inspired by the cinematic techniques of Ingmar Bergman. There’s also something of Bergman’s existential angst, though Saariaho’s exotic scoring ensures that the ear is constantly bewitched in this highly impressive piece.
Barry Millington, London Evening Standard,18/07/2012
Saariaho rings changes on ideas of stasis and speed in a score that deploys constantly shifting tempi and rhythms beneath orchestral sonorities of considerable refinement. Fragments of Bergman's text, whispered by the players, are added to the textures. Pervasive horn chords, meanwhile, refer specifically to the unforgettable seepage of red through Cries and Whispers...
Tim Ashley,,18/07/2012
Away from the composer's stated extra-musical stimuli, the 'innocent ear' might hear Laterna magica as an exploration of the unknown, some players required to speak into and breathe through their instruments to add human vapour. Tempos and rhythms abound in this fastidiously composed music, subtle, shifting and, appropriately, light-projecting. Parallels with Lutoslawski are apparent, so too with Birtwistle, particularly regarding perspective and tumult - not as volcanic as his Earth Dances but Saariaho may well have composed her own 'secret theatre'.
Colin Anderson,,17/07/2012
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