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Kaija Saariaho

Publisher: Chester Music

Circle Map (2012)
Commissioned by Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Stavanger Symphony Orchestra
Text Writer
Chester Music Ltd
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
30 Minutes
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Programme Note
Kaija Saariaho Circle Map (2012)
Six quatrains by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi have been both inspiration and part of the musical material for Circle Map.

Reading these six verses in their English translations, taking in their essence and vivid, yet simple imagery provided me with immediate inspiration. Yet, when studying the recordings of the poem we made, read in the original Persian by Arshia Cont, the abstract rhythm and musicality of the texts themselves struck me.

These recordings became the main material for the electronic part. In concert, these sounds are processed and mixed in real time and are then diffused across six loudspeakers surrounding the audience. All the work concerning the electronics was realized with Jean-Baptiste Barrière.

Each movement of Circle Map has a singular relation to a poem, a distinct orchestration, and a particular processing of the texts in the work’s electronics: the pitch and tone of the original voice modified differently from one movement to another. Each has its own character to bring out.

Indeed, so connected is the work to Rumi’s verse that the very musical material for the orchestra is based on the recorded Persian readings. A clear example of this is the relation of the orchestra and the text in the second movement, Walls closing. This movement ends in a rhythmic unison by orchestra and the voice, and the instruments also follow the pitches and intonations of the original speech.

For the best introduction to Circle Map read the poems by Rumi!


English translations below come from the following book: Unseen Rain: Quatrains of Rumi translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks (Threshold Books). The poems don’t have titles in the book, but I have given the following titles for the six parts of the piece:

I. Morning Wind

The morning wind spreads its fresh smell.
We must get up and take that in,
that wind that lets us live.
Breathe, before it’s gone.

Sobh ast o sabâ moshk feshân migozarad
Daryâb ke az kooye folan migozarad
Barkhiz – ché khosbi? ke jahân migozarad
Booyi besetân ke kârevân migozarad

II. Walls closing

Seeing you heals me.
Not seeing you, I feel the walls closing.
I would not wish for anyone else
such absence.

Déltangano didaré to darmâne manast
birange rokhat, zamâné zendâne manast
bar hich déli mabâd o bar hich tani
ânche az ghame héjrâne to bar jâne manast

III. Circles

Walk to the well.
Turn as the earth and the moon turn,
circling what they love.
Whatever circles comes from the center.

Dar noh ghadami ke cheshmé heyvânast
migarad cho charkh tâ mahat gérânast
jânist tora bégard hazrat gardân
in jâne gardân ze gardéshé ân jânast

IV. Days are Sieves

Days are sieves to filter spirit,
reveal impurities, and too,
show the light of some who throw
their own shining into the universe.

In rouzé cho gharbâl be beyzan jân râ
Peydâ ârad ghorâzeye penhân râ
jâni ke konad khiré mahé tâbân râ
bi pardé shavad, noor dahad keyvân râ

V. Dialogue

I am so small I can barely be seen.
How can this great love be inside me ?
Look at your eyes. They are small,
but they see enormous things.

Goftam ke ze khordi délé man nist padid
Ghamhâye bozorgé to dar oo chon gonjid
Goftâ ké zé del bédidé bâyad négarid
Khord ast o dar oo boroghâ bet-vân did

VI. Day and Night, Music

All day and night, music,
a quiet, bright
reedsong. If it
fades, we fade.

Âvâzé torâ tab’é délé mâ bâdâ
Andar shab-o-rouz, shâdo gouyâ bâdâ
âvâze khaste-ye to gar khaste shavad khaste chavim
âvâzé to chon nâye shékar-khâ bâdâ

For full information on the electronics, please click here.

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
    Susanna Mälkki
    RCO Live:
  • Ensemble
    Oslo Philharmonic
    Peter Herresthal
    Clement Mao-Takacs
    BIS Records:
  • 21 FEB 2020
    Portrait Mayne McGregor
    Nationaltheater Munich, Germany
    Bayerisches Staatsballett
    Wayne McGregor, Choreographie; Koen Kessels, conductor

    Other Dates:
    4,1,17 February 2019; 16 April 2019; 7,8,22,29 June 2019; 10,13 March - Nationaltheater Munich, Germany
  • 21 FEB 2020
    Portrait Wayne McGregor
    München, Germany
    Bayrisches Staatsballett and Bayrisches Staatsorchester
    Koen Kessels, conductor

    Other Dates:
    15,28 April 2018; 11,18 May 2018; 12,23 June 2018; 10 July 2018; 1,4,17 February 2019; 16 April 2019; 7,8,22,29 June 2019; 10,13 March - München, Germany

The composer Kaija Saariaho's imaginative world is riddled with the unexpected under guise of the more familiar. an expert at melding the electric and the acoustic, Saariaho constantly pulls the rug out from under the listener's feet.
Sarah Urwin Jones , The Times,24/03/2014
Saariaho's writing is extremely refined, like a fine mist through which solo lines emerge and retreat. Occasionally, the complex mech feels dense, even claustrophobic; mostly, the effect is magical.
Kate Molleson, The Guardian ,24/03/2014
...highly atmospheric movements, often clinched by sizzling, otherworldly percussion, here delicately delivered. There were several lovely passages for vibraphone, particularly in no. 3 "Circles".
Alan Coady,,24/03/2014
“it was scored with an expert ear for exquisite sonority, and there was a gratifying inevitability to its organic-sounding structures. Motifs circled (appropriately) around and around, and Saariaho cleverly balanced ethereal-sounding fragility with big, muscular climaxes.”
David Kettle, The Scotsman,24/03/2014
It’s been said that reading a poem in translation is a bit like kissing a bride through a veil. Yet what a veil Kaija Saariaho has given us in her exquisitely drawn “Circle Map,” a new work for orchestra and electronics that builds out — in many concentric circles — from six stanzas of poetry by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. The Persian verse itself was of course translated, in the literal sense, in the program book for Thursday night’s US premiere of this work by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Yet what Saariaho has done in her work was a deeper kind of translation, at once vaporizing these texts and making them strangely tactile. She has done so by building her work on a recording of the Persian artist Arshia Cont reciting the Rumi quatrains in their original language. Then, employing a strategy she has used in many electro-acoustic works, Saariaho digitally refracted the recorded voice and composed a full orchestral score around it, one that is keenly attentive to the granular surface details of the recording. You can think of it as high-modernism at play with digital sound art, rendered with an extremely refined ear, a formal rigor, and a sensual French-inflected timbral palette. Saariaho’s works can occasionally bog down beneath the weight of their own abstraction, but in “Circle Map,” the straightforward (if mystical) poetic texts unlock the piece and make it one of her most accessible orchestral scores. The first movement titled “Morning Wind” is carried on wisps of woodwind melody; “Circles” overlays brass riffs and myriad small repeating gestures. The final movement, the most striking in its gentle lambent light, imagines what Rumi meant by a “quiet, bright reedsong.” The Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena led the BSO, which co-commissioned the piece, in a richly atmospheric performance. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra gave this work’s world premiere in a reclaimed industrial space in Amsterdam, but on Thursday, the elegance of Saariaho’s music felt right at home in Symphony Hall.
Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe,02/11/2012
The Saariaho work, spanning nearly a half-hour, was a major undertaking, technically and artistically. The electronic component had to be re-designed for the long rectangle that is Symphony Hall, a very different space from Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek Gashouder, the cylindrical gas-storage-tank-turned-concert-hall for which this piece was composed. Not only did the BSO musicians have to master the acoustical complexities of the research-based style known as musique spectrale, they then had to blend seamlessly with electronic sounds emanating from all over the auditorium. All the effort and expense involved in mounting such a work paid off handsomely in the performance, which wove a deeply evocative sound-world around verses by the 13th-century poet Rumi, spoken on the electronic track in the original Persian. The human voice was the work’s touchstone, first as articulate language, then as altered and abstracted sound that moved out through the hall. The sound design by Timo Kurkikangas was often such a subtle presence that one hardly knew where the musicians’ imaginative playing left off and the electronic overtones began. All was informed by Rumi’s nature imagery, complemented by Saariaho’s chemistry with the natural acoustic properties of the instruments. For example, the work opened with a delicate sizzle of piccolo and percussion, then a microtonal swirl of strings as, in the poet’s words, “The morning wind spread its fresh smell.” In the third movement, a wonderfully strange mixture of hollow rumblings and celestial shimmer arose from Rumi’s conflicting imagery: “Walk to the well./Turn as the earth and the moon turn…” Saariaho’s sound images could also be charmingly direct, as when a lugubrious trumpet evoked the lover’s absence in the second movement, “Walls closing,” and electronic alteration of the speaker’s voice in the fifth movement, “Dialogue,” produced a childlike squeak for a question and a voice-of-God boom for the reply. Mena skillfully oversaw the mix of Saariaho’s acoustics and colors, giving each movement its distinct character, without neglecting a sense of pace and direction. Big in every sense—performing forces, heart, artistic ambition—Circle Map showed a route to new territory for that old institution, the symphony orchestra.
David Right, The Classical Review,02/11/2012
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