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Kaija Saariaho

Publisher: Chester Music

Graal théâtre (1994)
commissioned by the BBC and VARA Radio 4, Netherlands
Work Notes
dedicated to Gidon Kremer The reduced score (CH61077-01) is in fact the arrangement for two pianos. It requires two grand pianos with sostenuto pedal. It may be used for rehearsal of both full orchestra and chamber versions. The solo violin part is supplied separately (CH61222-01).
Chester Music Ltd
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
25 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Alternate Orchestration
violin; 1(pic).1.1+bcl.1/2.1.0+btbn.0/2perc/
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Programme Note
Kaija Saariaho Graal théâtre (1994)
Graal théâtre (Grail theatre) takes its title from a book of the same name by Jacques Roubaud. While I was working on my violin concerto the book inspired me indirectly in two ways: firstly the title expresses the tension that I feel between the efforts of the composer when writing music and the theatrical aspect of a performance, especially in the case of a concerto, where the soloist, both physically and musically is playing a major role. Roubaud's interpretation of the old legend with its very personal example, also encouraged me to realise something that I had long found impossible: to bring an idea of the violin concerto, a genre with so many moving and skilful masterpieces, into my musical framework and language,

The initial source of inspiration for the piece is the playing and musicianship of Gidon Kremer, to whom the piece is dedicated.

When compared to my other music, Graal théâtre is the exception in a long row of pieces in which I combine acoustic instruments with some kind of electronic extensions. Unlike these earlier works my starting point here was the delicate violin sound and its interaction with an orchestra.

© Kaija Saariaho

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    Avanti! Orchestra / Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra / BBC Symphony Orchestra
    Anssi Kattunen, cello / Dawn Upshaw, sorprano / Gidon Kremer, violin
    Esa-Pekka Salonen
    Sony Music:
  • Ensemble
    Los Angeles Philharmonic
    Anu Komsi (soprano), Riikka Rantanen (contralto), Petri Alanko (alto flute), Anssi Karttunen (cello), Petteri Salomaa (baritone), John Storgards (violin), Pia Freund (soprano), Gabriel Suovanen (baritone), Karita Mattila (soprano)
    Esa-Pekka Salonen
  • Ensemble
    Oslo Philharmonic
    Peter Herresthal
    Clement Mao-Takacs
    BIS Records:
The central characteristic of Saariaho’s music, constant tension of slow changing, is microscopic drama at its best: as if one would examine large quantities of identical snowflakes first from a distance and then more closely and closely, so that the diversity and wealth of the flakes’ figures suddenly dawned like a stroke of lightning. … The climax of the huge concert was the premiere of the chamber version of GRAAL THÉÂTRE. … In the chamber version of her brilliant [violin] concerto Saariaho has reduced her spectra to become more evocative and in their individuality maybe more touching, too.
Jukka Isopuro, Helsingin Sanomat,01/09/1997
It is indeed a superbly made piece, elegantly shaped, addressing and challenging the canons of violinistic virtuosity… It is rare, at this point, to see a composer get to grips with writing that is virtuostic, Paganinian, without succumbing to aridity, and without the piece losing its whole raison d’être.
Jacques-Emmanuel Fousnaquer, Le Monde,01/02/1996
Its protagonist is a solo violin (here played by Gideon Kremer, to whom the work is dedicated). The drama of the music is created by the fearsome virtuosity – but also the lyricism – of the violin part in the context of an everchanging orchestral texture, sometimes drawing its ideas from the violin’s lead, sometimes complementing it with other gestures…highly effective in its scintillating juxtapositions and interweavings of delicacy and richness, activity and stillness.
Geoffrey Norris, The Daily Telegraph,01/08/1995
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