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Kaija Saariaho

Publisher: Chester Music

Du Cristal (1989)
commissioned by the Helsinki Festival and the LA Philharmonic Orchestra
Work Notes
dedicated to the composer's son Alex and Esa-Pekka Salonen
Publisher
Edition Wilhelm Hansen, Helsinki
Category
Orchestra
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
1989
Duration
19 Minutes


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Programme Note
Kaija Saariaho Du Cristal (1989)
FOR FULL INFORMATION ON THE ELECTRONICS, please click here.

In 1989 Kaija Saariaho found herself in the unusual position of receiving two commissions for large orchestral pieces to fulfil within as many years, without having written a large-scale orchestral work before (her Verblendungen of 1982 had been scored for large chamber orchestra). Not daunted by such a task, she decided to link the two works together so that they would form an orchestral diptych totalling some thirty-eight minutes of music entitled Du Cristal … à la fumée (‘From Crystal … into smoke’). Thus the last sound of Du Cristal – a cello trill played sul ponticello – becomes retrospectively the first sound of its successor, … à la fumée, which features solo parts for cello and amplified alto flute in addition to large orchestra. Saariaho has commented that ‘to my way of thinking, Du Cristal … à la fumée is a single work, two facets of the same image, but both fully drawn in, living and independent’; so the pieces may either be played together or on their own.

Saariaho took her title from a book by the French writer Henri Atlan, "Entre le cristal et la fumée", and for her it signifies the way the same acoustic material is developed in sharply different ways in the two pieces, the turbulent energy and almost expressionist outbursts of Du Cristal subsiding into the capricious, playful double concerto of...à la fumée.

Du Cristal was commissioned jointly by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Helsinki Festival, and it was first performed by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen in September 1990. It is scored for a standard large symphony orchestra with the assition of an important part for synthesizer, and featuring a highly prominent percussion section. None of Saariaho's major works to date is without some kind of electroniv element, and the presence of the synthesizer is significant in the light of Saariaho's remark that she tends to the orchestra itself 'as if it was a huge synthesizer'. The standard form of electronic synthesis is 'additive' - htat is, each sound is created by piling innumerable pure tones upon each other. Transferred to the medium of the orchestra, this means that it is as if each individual instrument were analogous to a pure tone in a synthesizer, merely a tiny part of a large, slowly evolving mass of sound. Thus there is no polyphony, nor any melody in the conventional sense, although the music is frequently lyrical in its gestures and the activity within the textures may momentarily suggest polyphony; the important thing to follow is the overall drift of the orchestral mass, and to relate the individual details to that. It's an approach which oews something to the dense, multi-layered orchestral works of György Ligeti, such as "Atmosphères and Lontano", as well as to the so-called 'spectral-music' of French composers Tristan Murail and Gérard Grisey, all of whom Saariaho has acknowledged as influences on her music; but her won style is nevertheless thoroughly personal and has distinctly brooding, 'Northern' character quite distinct from any of the afore-mentioned.

The harmonic character of Du Cristal is especially focused and clearly defined as the work is dominated by the bell-chord with which it opens. During the first seven minutes, this chord is slowly and methodically dissected: all its internal components are highlighted as its orchestration is progressively shaded and softened, although the basic character of the chord remains essentially unchanged. There follows an eruption of some violence which breaks up the harmonic sontinuity of the music; a dialogue ensuesbetween onslaughts of unpitched percussion and further bell sounds from tuned percussion and synthesizer. After this the texture thins somewhat and the rate of harmonic change increases; melodic tissues briefly emerge on the violins and the woodwind. The increased rate of change precipitates the principal climax of the work, again featuring untuned percussion prominently: chaotic, irregular rhythms gradually merge into a hammeringly regular series of ostinatos for the full orchestra - the simplest and clearest music in the piece - and out of these the sound spectrum is gradually narrowed until a single note (a unison A flat) is heard. As this fades into filigree passages for solo strings, the music drifts closer to the harmonic world of the opening, and the original chord is itself twice restated; far from subsiding, however, the music suddenly veers back to the hammering ostinato of the climax - as if the form of the whole piece thus far had been telescoped into some two minutes. Only now can the music progress to the coda, underpinned by a series of wave-like crescendos on bass drum and synthesizer as the textures dwindle to a single cello trill.

©Julian Anderson

  • Ensemble
    Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra / Kronos Quartet
    Soloist(s)
    Petri Alanko, flute / Anssi Karttunen, cello
    Conductor
    Esa-Pekka Salonen
    Ondine:
  • Ensemble
    Los Angeles Philharmonic
    Soloist(s)
    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)
    Conductor
    Esa-Pekka Salonen
Performances
Date
Title
  • 20 MAR 2014
    Auditorium de Lyon, France
    Orchestre National de Lyon
    Jonathan Stockhammer, conductor
  • 10 NOV 2012
    NOW!
    Phillharmonie Essen, Germany
    Essener Philharmoniker
    Jonathan Stockhammer, conductor
  • 28 JAN 2012
    Centennial Concert Hall, Winnipeg, Canada
    Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
    Maria Cherwick, Jennifer Joh, violin; Jesse Plessis, piano; Alexander Mickelthwate, conductor
  • 27 JAN 2012
    Winnipeg
    Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
    Alexander Mickelthwate, conductor
  • 06 AUG 2011
    NJO Summer Academy
    Arnhem, Netherlands
    NJO Symphony Orchestra
    Antony Hermus, conductor

    Other Dates:
    7 August - Apeldoorn, Netherlands
  • 06 AUG 2011
    NJO Summer Academy
    Arnhem, Netherlands
    NJO Symphony Orchestra
    Antony Hermus, conductor

    Other Dates:
    7 August - Apeldoorn, Netherlands
  • 03 APR 2008
    Filharmonien, Oslo, Norway
    Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
    John Storgårds, conductor
  • 26 MAY 2007
    Musica Electronica Nova Festival
    Wroclaw, Poland
    Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra
    Camilla Hoitenga, flute; Anssi Karttunen, cello; Vladimir Kiradijiew, conductor
  • 16 OCT 2004
    L'Auditori, Barcelona
    Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya
    Tuomas Ollila, conductor

    Other Dates:
    17 October - L'Auditori, Barcelona
  • 20 NOV 2003
    San Fransisco Symphony
    Davies Symphony Hall, San Fransisco
    San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
    Sakari Oramo, conductor

    Other Dates:
    21,22 November - Davies Symphony Hall, San Fransisco
  • 07 NOV 2002
    Composer Festival
    Konserthuset, Stockholm
    Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
    Taina Piira, soprano / Gerald Finley, baritone / Magnus Lindberg, piano; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
  • 25 SEP 2002
    Helsinki
    Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    John Storgårds, conductor
  • 21 FEB 2002
    Chicago, IL
    Chicago Symphony Orchestra
    Franz Welser-Möst, conductor

    Other Dates:
    22,23 February - Chicago, IL
  • 04 OCT 2001
    Cleveland, OH
    Cleveland Orchestra
    Franz Welser-Möst, conductor

    Other Dates:
    5-7 October - Cleveland, OH

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