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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
Soloist(s) 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
  • 18 JAN 2018
    Fundación Abanca, Vigo
    Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia
    Jennifer Koh, violín; Dennis Russell Davies, conductor

    Other Dates:
    19 January - Auditorio, A Coruña
  • 14 OCT 2017
    Southam Hall, Ottawa, Ontario, CA
    National Arts Centre Orchestra
    John Storgards; Alexander Shelley, conductor
  • 11 MAR 2017
    Pinakothek der Moderne, München, Germany
    Münchener Kammerorchester
    John Storgårds, Violin; Clemens Schuldt, conductor
  • 10 FEB 2017
    Présences 2017: Kaija Saariaho
    Maison de la Radio (Auditorium), Paris
    Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
    Jennifer Koh, violin; Nora Gubisch, mezzo-soprano; Dima Slobodeniouk, conductor
  • 04 OCT 2016
    Norges Musikkhøgskole, Oslo, Norway
    Student Ensemble
    Jonathan Haas, conductor
  • 03 AUG 2016
    Aspen, CO
    Associates Festival
    Jennifer Koh, violin; Timothy Weiss, conductor
  • 17 MAR 2016
    Tampere, Finland
    Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra
    Mei-Ann Chen, conductor
  • 18 FEB 2016
    Verdensteatret, Tromso
    Peter Herresthal, violin; Øyvind Bjorå, conductor
  • 28 NOV 2015
    Essen, Germany
    ASKO | SCHÖNBERG Ensemble
    Joseph Puglia, Violin; Reinbert de Leeuw, conductor
  • 03 OCT 2014
    Teatro Malibran, Biennale, Venice
    Orchestra Teatro La Fenice
    Francesco D'Orazio, violin; Pascal Rophé, conductor
  • 25 AUG 2013
    Ostrava Days 2013
    Ostrava Philharmonic Hall, Czech Republic
    Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra
    Hana Kotkova, violin; Johannes Kalitzke, conductor
  • 02 AUG 2012
    Festival Valle d'Itria
    Palazzo Ducale, Martina Franca, Italy
    Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia
    Daniel Cohen, conductor
  • 03 APR 2012
    Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Toronto
    Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble
    Lucy Fitz Gibbon, soprano/Emily Belvedere, harp, Andréa Tyniec, violin; Brian Current, conductor
  • 04 FEB 2012
    Music Centre Helsinki, FINLAND
    Sibelius Academy
    Santtu-Matias Rouvali, 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
    Centennial Concert Hall, Winnipeg, CANADA
    Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
    Alexander Mickelthwate, conductor
  • 27 JAN 2012
    Winnipeg, Canada
    Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Ltd
    Alexander Mickelthwaite, conductor
  • 10 APR 2011
    Grand Auditorium de Caen, Caen, France
    Orchestre de Caen
    Antti Tikkanen; Vahan Mardirossian, conductor
  • 29 MAY 2010
    Salzburg, Austria
    Österreichisches Ensemble für Neue Musik
    Martin Mumelter
  • 29 MAY 2010
    Salzburg, Austria
    Österreichisches Ensemble für Neue Musik
    Sallaberger, Oswald, conductor
  • 16 APR 2010
    Evanston, IL
    Northwestern University
    Ryan Nelson, conductor
  • 16 APR 2010
    Evanston, IL
    Austin Wuliman, violin; Russel Rolen, cello; Ryan T. Nelson, conductor
  • 19 NOV 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    International Contemporary Ensemble
    Brad Lubman, conductor

    Other Dates:
    22 November - Brooklyn, NY
  • 18 APR 2008
    Roundhouse Community Centre, Vancouver, Canada
    Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
    Evan Mitchell, conductor
  • 07 DEC 2006
    Proms aan het IJ
    Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Amsterdam, Holland
    Schönberg Ensemble
    Etienne Siebens, conductor
  • 06 AUG 2004
    Ekenäs Summer Concert Festival 2004
    Church of Ekenäs, Ekenäs,Finland
    Finnish Chamber Orchestra
    John Storgårds, violin; Jukka-Pekka Saraste, conductor
  • 28 APR 2004
    Finlandia Hall, Helsinki, Finland
    Radio Symphony Orchestra
    John Storgards, violin; Hannu Lintu, conductor
  • 31 MAR 2004
    Théâtre du Mogador, Paris
    Orchestre de Paris
    Jukka-Pekka Saraste, conductor

    Other Dates:
    1 April - Théâtre du Mogador, Paris
  • 08 NOV 2003
    Lisbon, Portugal
    Tapio Tuomela, conductor
  • 07 NOV 2003
    Graal théâtre Country Premiere
    In Extremis
    Exhibitions Center, Lisbon
    Tapio Tuomela, conductor

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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