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Kaija Saariaho

Publisher: Chester Music

Notes on Light (2006)
Publisher
Chester Music Ltd
Category
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
2006
Duration
28 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Cello
Programme Note
Kaija Saariaho Notes on Light (2006)
Notes on Light

Writing about a new work before its first performance is always scary even if there is no composer whose music is closer to me than Kaija. I know from experience that only after playing a new piece several times can I put into words my real feelings about it. I will attempt here to describe what I see and hear now, while preparing the piece for the first performance.

At first sight Notes on light with its five movements doesn't quite resemble the average Cello Concerto. However, with a closer look I soon found the elements that I like to think make a great concerto: -The relation of soloist and orchestra goes through many very different situations. -The cello is given the chance to show its full versatility. - When the soloist has important things to say, the orchestra gives it space and on the other hand the orchestra also gets its moments to lift the music up into exuberant colours.

The Soloist is not just the hero of Notes on Light, he/she also has to stand up for his rights, fight, lead, collaborate with and sometimes submit to the orchestra. All these make Notes on light a rich voyage that could well lead us into the very heart of light.

I see two intervals of a semitone as important mottos of the piece: The first is a slide down from f sharp to f natural which starts the piece and to which one returns from different paths along the Concerto. The second is a rising figure of c sharp to d natural, which often interrupts the action and stops the soloist. These two motives seem to be even stronger landmarks than any melodic element. In the last movement the single note of f sharp proves to be the centre of the whole work.

Through the voice of the cello the first movement introduces the secret world of the piece, translucently coloured by the orchestra in small ensembles. The second movement opposes the soloist and the orchestra in a fiery dialogue. The music is energetic and obsessive, the soloist refusing to speak at the same time with the orchestra. The third movement finally awakens both into building together large, colourful gestures.

In the fourth movement the orchestra eclipses the soloist with dark waves of sound. The Soloist offers his c sharp-d motive twice, in vain. He finally shakes the shadows away with the third try that leads us directly to the fifth movement and the two embark on a voyage towards light. Finally F sharp is the note that becomes the heart of light, lifting the cello in the end high up to the spheres of absolute brightness, .. or total darkness.

On the last page of the score Saariaho has included a quote from T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land:

"... I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence."

Anssi Karttunen, January 11th 2007, Paris



  • Ensemble
    Orchestre de Paris
    Soloist(s)
    Karita Mattila; Anssi Karttunen
    Conductor
    Christoph Eschenbach
    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
  • 25 MAY 2014
    Saarbrücken, GERMANY
    Saarlandischer Rundfunk
    Anssi Karttunen; Jonathan Stockhammer, conductor
  • 31 MAY 2013
    Luleå, Sweden
    Oulu Sinfonia
    Franceso Dillon, cello; Johannes Gustavsson, conductor
  • 10 MAY 2012
    Jena, Germany
    Jenaer Philharmonie
    Peter Hörr; Anna-Maria Helsing, conductor
  • 15 APR 2012
    Royal Albert Hall, London
    BBC Concert Orchestra
    Benjamin Hughes; David Charles Abel, conductor
  • 20 JAN 2012
    Newark, NJ
    New Jersey Symphony
    Anssi Karttunen, cello ; Jacques Lacombe, conductor

    Other Dates:
    21,22 January - Newark, NJ
  • 08 OCT 2011
    Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
    Royal Opera House Orchestra

    Other Dates:
    12,14,17,20 October - Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
  • 16 OCT 2010
    Casa da Música, Porto
    Orquestra Nacional do Porto
    Anssi Kartunnen, cello; Olari Elts, conductor
  • 20 JUN 2010
    Köln, Germany
    musikFabrik Landesensemble Nordrhein-Westfalen
    Dirk Wietheger, Cello; Emilio Pomárico, conductor
  • 09 MAR 2010
    Lyon, France
    Conservatoire de Lyon

    Other Dates:
    14 March - Lyon, France
  • 23 JAN 2010
    Miami Beach, FL
    New World Symphony
    Susanna Mälkki, conductor
  • 23 JAN 2010
    Lincoln Theatre, Miami Beach, USA
    New World Symphony
  • 04 NOV 2009
    Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
    Royal Opera House Orchestra
    Assi Karttunen; Barry Wordsworth, conductor

    Other Dates:
    5,9,13,17,18 November - Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
  • 13 NOV 2008

    Exit Music
    Notes on Light Country Premiere
    Torsdagskoncert
    Musikkonservatoriets Koncertsal, Copenhagen, Denmark
    DR SymfoniOrkestret
    Anssi Karttunen, cello; John Storgårds, conductor
  • 25 SEP 2008
    Notes on Light Country Premiere
    Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    Concertgebouw Orchestra
    Anssi Karttunen, cello; Oliver Knussen, conductor

    Other Dates:
    26 September - Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • 14 AUG 2008
    Mostly Mozart
    Lincoln Center, New York, USA
    City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
    Anssi Karttunen, cello; Susanna Mälkki, conductor
  • 29 MAY 2008
    Notes on Light Country Premiere
    Kiel, Germany
    NDR Symphony Orchestra
    Anssi Karttunen, cello; Sylvain Cambreling, conductor

    Other Dates:
    30 May - Hamburg, Germany
  • 13 MAR 2008
    Mirage World Premiere
    Notes on Light Country Premiere
    Orion
    Salle Pleyel, Paris, France
    Orchestre de Paris
    Anssi Karttunen, cello; Karita Mattila, soprano; Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
  • 22 NOV 2007
    Pamplona, Navarra, Spain
    Orquesta Sinfonica de Navarra
    Anssi Karttunen, cello; Ernest Martinez-Izquierdo, conductor

    Other Dates:
    23 November - Pamplona, Navarra, Spain
  • 01 NOV 2007
    Notes on Light Country Premiere
    Latvia
    Latvian National Symphony Orchestra
    Anssi Karttunen, cello; Ernest Martinez-Izquierdo, conductor
  • 12 OCT 2007
    Notes on Light Country Premiere
    Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, Sweden
    Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    Anssi Karttunen, cello; Jukka-Pekka Saraste, conductor
  • 21 SEP 2007
    Notes on Light Country Premiere
    Warsaw Autumn 2007
    National Philharmonic, Concert Hall, Warsaw
    National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    Anssi Karttunen; Reinbert de Leeuw, conductor
  • 25 APR 2007
    Notes on Light Country Premiere
    Barcelona, Spain
    Barcelona Symphony Orchestra
    Anssi Karttunen, cello; Ernest Martinez-Izquierdo, conductor

    Other Dates:
    26,27 April - Barcelona, Spain
  • 14 MAR 2007
    Notes on Light European Premiere
    Finlandia House, Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    Anssi Karttunen; John Storgårds, conductor
  • 22 FEB 2007
    Notes on Light World Premiere
    Symphony Hall, Boston, MA
    Boston Symphony Orchestra
    Anssi Kartunen, cello; Jukka-Pekka Saraste, conductor

    Other Dates:
    23,24,27 February - Symphony Hall, Boston, MA

Reviews
...the piece emerges as an earthy, weighty and strained dialogue between a mercurial cello and an enveloping orchestra. At first the cello explores a tortured theme that prolongs a painful half-step melodic motif, and evolves in arching spans alive with slides, groans and slippery pitches. The orchestra, a mass of precisely layered, quivering sonorities, alternately cushions and rattles the cello. Though the work is ominous and searching over all, there are strongly contrasting sections, as in the second movement, which erupts into spiraling orchestra riffs and fitful cello outbursts. As always in a Saariaho score, color is primary, and Mr. Karttunen showed a mastery of myriad colorings in his rhapsodic performance.
Anthony Tommasini, The NEw York Times,8/15/2008
Kaija Saariaho’s music is Finnish firewater laced with classy cognac. A pioneer, together with Esa-Pekka Salonen and Magnus Lindberg, of Finland’s avant-garde, Saariaho is now an adopted Parisian whose music fuses raw energy and sensuous sophistication. The Barbican hosts the UK premiere of her oratorio La Passion de Simone in July; her music joins that of Sibelius Unbound in November; and returns next year in her opera Adriana Mater. And the European premiere of Saariaho’s Cello Concerto has just proved the hottest of hot tickets at this spring’s Musica nova festival in Helsinki. Anssi Karttunen was the virtuoso cello soloist in Notes on Light, a five-movement journey towards T. S. Eliot’s “heart of light”: The Waste Land is quoted at the end of the score. The metaphor of light has become almost a cliché of Nordic music. But Saariaho has created a tough and challenging metaphor for performance itself. The drooping semitone, with which the solo cello starts, has to fight its way through ensemble, dialogue and dark orchestral masses to find its own light, to return to the one true note with which it began – now purified and high in the cello’s stratosphere. Abstract form brings out the sinewy best in Saariaho: this is a fine addition to her portfolio.
The Times,3/21/2007
Anssi Karttunen was the virtuoso cellist in Notes on Light, a five-movement journey towards T.S. Eliot's "heart of light": The Waste Land is quoted at the end of the score. The metaphor of light has become almost a cliche of Nordic music. But Saariaho has created a tough and challenging metaphor for performance itself. The drooping semitone, with which the solo cello starts, has to fight its way through ensemble, dialogue and dark orchestral masses to find its own light, to return to the one true note with which it began - now purified and high in the cello's stratosphere. Abstract form brings out the sinewy best in Saariaho: this is a fine addition to her portfolio.
Hilary Finch, THe Times,3/12/2007
...the soloist veers off into various sound worlds, and the orchestra scurries along trying to keep up. Saraste did a masterful job keeping the various forces in order. It is rare when a new work sounds completely convincing and lucid at first hearing; thanks to Saraste and Karttunen, that was the case with “Notes on Light.”
The Boston Herald,2/24/2007
This excellent Finnish composer is a master of sonic iridescence, a creator of blazing nightscapes for orchestra. One of her earlier works was actually inspired by the aurora borealis , and her newest piece is called "Notes on Light." Commissioned by the BSO to mark its 125th anniversary, "Notes on Light" received its world premiere last night at Symphony Hall, with the orchestra led by the Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste. Saariaho wrote this fascinating new work for her longtime collaborator, the Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen , who was naturally the soloist last night. Interesting, while many new works struggle for an initial boost beyond their world premiere, "Notes on Light" already has numerous performances scheduled by different orchestras well into 2008. Previous Saariaho works written for Karttunen tended to focus the ear on the minute surface details of sound, with pieces that often resemble extended studies in acoustic texture, often with the help of electronic input. In this case, she has written a far more extroverted work, a cello concerto in all but name, with the orchestra and soloist engaged in an ever-shifting dialogue that is loosely divided into five movements. At work from the start is Saariaho's sensitive ear and highly individual feel for orchestral color, later enhanced by bright splashes of percussion. In the first movement, downward-sloping glissandi in the strings suggest movement towards an interior domain. The solo cello, often in stratospheric registers, volleys passionately with the orchestra. Saariaho uses many of her signature extended techniques, including notes purposefully crushed with the bow until they resemble noise. In the fourth movement, the cellist falls silent for long stretches as the life seems to slowly drain from the orchestra. The fifth movement, titled "Heart of Light" after a quote from "The Waste Land," ends with a long-held pianissimo F-sharp, a fade to white, and a capacious silence.
Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe,2/23/2007
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