ABOVE: CSO Principal Percussion Cynthia Yeh discusses the many instruments of Saariaho’s Trois rivières.

    About the piece:

    Duration: 16 minutes
    Instrumentation: Percussion and electronics
    Commissioned by Musica Strasbourg
    Premiered by the Hélios Quartet on Sept. 24 1994 at the Strasbourg Music Festival in Strasbourg, France
    Copyright/Publisher Information: Chester Music and Edition Wilhelm Hansen

    As the title suggests, Trois rivières is divided into three separate sections. The first part introduces all the instrumental colors used in the piece. The rhythmic aspect is nearly eliminated here, allowing room for the timbral scales, colors, resonances, attacks and textures to come to the fore. The instruments come from all members of the percussion family, but unpitched instruments are given a primary role.

    The second part of Trois rivières adds a rhythmic aspect to the nuances of color and texture, as an ostinato is developed in markedly varying directions. The last part is an epilogue, recalling components of the two preceding parts. Here, earlier aspects of the material are reorganized and placed in different relationships to each other. The voices of the percussionists act together as an extension of the instruments, and are used to create either rhythmically free textures or strictly notated rhythms. The poem La nuit de lune sur le fleuve (“Moonlit night on the river”) by the Chinese poet Li Po (701–762) constitutes the material for the voices, which are amplified and further enhanced throughout.

    © Chester Music Limited

    About the composer:

    Kaija Saariaho is a prominent member of a group of Finnish composers and performers who are now making a worldwide impact. Born in Helsinki, she studied at the city’s Sibelius Academy with the pioneering modernist Paavo Heininen. While a student, she founded the progressive Ears Open group with Magnus Lindberg and others. Saariaho continued her studies in Freiburg with Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber, at the Darmstadt summer courses, and, from 1982, at the IRCAM research institute in Paris, the city that has been her home ever since.

    At IRCAM, Saariaho developed techniques of computer-assisted composition and acquired fluency in working on tape and with live electronics. This experience influenced her approach to writing for orchestra, with its emphasis on the shaping of dense masses of sound in slow transformations. Significantly, her first orchestral piece, Verblendungen (1984), involves a gradual exchange of roles and character between orchestra and tape. And even the titles of her next pair of linked orchestral works, Du Cristal (1989) and …à la Fumée (1990) — the latter with solo alto flute and cello, and both with live electronics — suggest a preoccupation with color and texture.

    Before coming to work at IRCAM, Saariaho learned to know the French Spectralist composers, whose techniques are based on computer analysis of the sound-spectrum. This analytical approach inspired her to develop her own method for creating harmonic structures, as well as the detailed notation using harmonics, microtonality and detailed continuum of sound extending from pure tone to unpitched noise: all features found in one of her most frequently performed works, Graal théâtre for violin and orchestra or ensemble (1994/97).

    Saariaho later turned to opera, with outstanding success. L’Amour de loin, with a libretto by Amin Maalouf based on an early biography of the 12th century troubadour Jaufré Rudel, received widespread acclaim in its premiere production directed by Peter Sellars at the 2000 Salzburg Festival, and won the composer a prestigious Grawemeyer Award. Adriana Mater, based on an original libretto by Maalouf, mixed gritty present-day reality and dreams and was again directed by Sellars, at the Opéra Bastille in Paris in March 2006. Emilie, an opera and monodrama for Karita Mattila, had its premiere in Lyon in March 2010.

    Saariaho has also composed a number of other vocal works, notably the ravishing Château de l’âme (1996), Oltra mar (1999), and the song cycle Quatre instants (2002). The evening-long La Passion de Simone, portraying the life and death of the philosopher Simone Weil, formed part of Sellars’ international festival New Crowned Hope in 2006/07.

    The experience of writing for voices has led to some clarification of Saariaho’s musical language, with a new vein of modally oriented melody accompanied by more regular repeating patterns. This change of direction has been carried over into orchestral works, including Aile du songe for flute and chamber orchestra (2001) and the stunning Orion for large orchestra (2002), Notes on Light (2006) for cellist Anssi Karttunen and the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Bergman-inspired Laterna Magica (2008) for Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Most recently, D’Om Le Vrai Sens, was written for the clarinetist Kari Kriikku.

    In the profusion of large and small works that Saariaho has produced in recent years, two features continue to stand out. One is a close and productive association with individual artists including Amin Maalouf and Peter Sellars, as well as conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, flautist Camilla Hoitenga, cellist Anssi Karttunen, soprano Dawn Upshaw and pianists Emanuel Ax and Tuija Hakkila. The other is a concern — shown equally in her choice of subject matter and texts and in the profusion of expression marks in her scores — to make her music not a working-out of abstract processes, but an urgent communication from composer to listener of ideas, images and emotions.

    Saariaho has claimed a number of major awards for composition, including the Grawemeyer Award, the Wihuri Prize, the Nemmers Prize and the Sonning Prize. In 2015 she will be the judge of the Toru Takemitsu Composition Award.

    Saariaho’s most recent orchestral work, Circle Map (2012), was jointly commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. The piece was inspired by six poems of Rumi. These poems, recited in Persian, are used as the material for the electronic part. Circle Map received its premiere by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the Westergasfabriek Gashouder, Amsterdam, in June 2012.

    More information at chesternovello.com.