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Kaija Saariaho

Publisher: Chester Music

Sombre (2012)
For The Serge Koussevitsky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress, and dedicated to the memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitsky.
Text Writer
Ezra Pound
Chester Music Ltd
Solo Voice(s) and up to 6 players
Year Composed
18 Minutes

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Programme Note
Kaija Saariaho Sombre (2012)
Mark Rothko is an artist whose work I have felt close to for a long time. When Sarah Rothenberg proposed that I write a piece for the Da Camera ensemble, to be premiered at the Rothko Chapel, I immediately began to imagine a dark instrumentation which in my mind corresponded to the paintings in the chapel. The colour of the bass flute sound became a centre of this palette; it had in my mind a close connection to Rothko's work. I also wanted to include a baritone voice in the ensemble and I started to look for texts.

In my research I came across Ezra Pound's very last Cantos, or, more precisely, fragments of them. Their minimal form as well as their heartbreaking content seemed to suit this piece perfectly. These three short texts defined the overall structure of my piece, which is divided into three movements. All movements are then divided into two large sections, of which the first one is a musical introduction with a prominent bass flute part. The second section introduces the texts.

The formal solutions were also influenced by my visit to the Rothko Chapel with Camilla Hoitenga in March 2012. We were able to spend some time alone in the chapel with the paintings, and I noticed that of the eight walls, three walls are hung with impressive triptychs. Furthermore, some of my favourite paintings by Rothko have an overall form of two superimposed fields of living colour.

The title Sombre appeared naturally from the character of the instrumentation, of the texts and above all of these last paintings by Mark Rothko.

The piece has been written for Da Camera, Camilla Hoitenga and Daniel Belcher.

Score Sample

  • Ensemble
    Da Camera of Houston
    Camilla Hoitenga, flute; Anssi Karttunen, cello; Daniel Belcher, baritone; Heloise Dautry, harp
  • Ensemble
    Da Camera of Houston
    Camilla Hoitenga, flute; Daniel Belcher, baritone
  • 18 FEB 2017
    Présences 2017: Kaija Saariaho
    Maison de la Radio (Studio 104), Paris
    Davóne Tines, baritone; Camilla Hoitenga, flute; Eija Kankaanranta, kantele; Xavier de Maistre, harp; Florent Jodelet, percussion; Lyodoh Kaneko, violin; Oana Marchand, cello; Florentin Ginot, double bass
  • 11 JUN 2016
    Ojai Music Festival
    Ojai, CA
    ICE, Calder Quartet, Franck Rossi - electronics, Davóne Tines - baritone, Camilla Hoitenga - bass flute
  • 20 MAY 2016
    Schwetzinger SWR Festspiele
    Schwetzinger Schloss, Germany
    Schola Heidelberg
    Anssi Karttunen, cello / Florent Jodelet, percussion / Camilla Hoitenga, flute / Héloïse Dautry, harpe / Robert Koller, baritone / Jean-Baptiste Barrière, visuals and electronics
  • 30 JAN 2016
    NJORD Biennale 2016
    Koncertkirken, Copenhagen, Denmark
    Duo Harpverk (harp and percussion), Hélène Navasse (flute), Richard Korn (contrabass), Robert Koller (baritone), Jesper Sivebæk (guitar), Bjarke Mogensen (accordion), Josefine Opsahl (cello)
  • 24 SEP 2014
    Trondheim Chamber Music Festival 2014
    Dokkhuset, Trondheim
    Trondheim Sinfonietta
    Camilla Hoitenga (flute) Daniel Belcher (baritone); Ernest Martinez-Izquierdo, conductor
  • 14 FEB 2014
    La Comedie de Clermont-Ferrand, France
  • 23 AUG 2013
    Baltic Sea Festival
    Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
  • 23 FEB 2013
    Sombre World Premiere
    Rothko Chapel, Houston, USA
    Da Camera Ensemble

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