MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Saariaho’s Innocence

After a yearlong delay caused by the pandemic, the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence has unveiled Innocence, its latest opera commission from Kaaija Sariaho. Despite its tragic story involving a school shooting, the experience — even at a distance, via the stream currently available on arte.tv, is overwhelmingly affirmative: of the power of art to transform impossible pain and senselessness.

Innocence, set in contemporary Helsinki, features a libretto by the Finnish novelist Sofi Oksanen, with multilingual contributions by Aleksi Barrière. The text incorporates English, Czech, Romanian, French, Swedish, German, Spanish, and Greek in addition to Finnish, its setting in an international school suggesting an allegory for Europe’s attempt to achieve a multicultural society.

From the Aix summary: “It is a typical wedding for a cosmopolitan city, in present-day Finland. The fiancé is Finnish, the bride Romanian, and the mother-in-law French. But suddenly, during the wedding banquet, the Czech waitress feels ill… Ten years earlier, these characters were struck by a tragic event. Ghosts revive their memories of the trauma, which occurred in a school; there is a guilty haze, a lost innocence.”

The Australian director Simon Stone staged Innocence, with Susanna Mälkki conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; the cast features Magdalena Kožená, Sandrine Piau, Tuomas Pursio, Lilian Farahani, Markus Nykänen, Jukka Rasilainen, Lucy Shelton, among others.

Zachary Wolfe, in his eloquent review, describes Saariaho’s score: “Porous and agile; simmering beneath and around the voices; and only occasionally, briefly exploding, this is music as a vehicle for exploring and intensifying drama. It is complex, yet confident enough to exist not merely for its own sake.”

Writing for Bachtrack, Romain Daroles observes: “The score is served with a masterly hand by Susanna Mälkki and the London Symphony Orchestra who, from the opening of the opera, creates a music box that the implacable and impeccable rigor of execution quickly transforms into a Pandora’s box, revealing one by one the secrets, the defects, and the evils of individuals, of humanity.”

Declares Reinhard Brembeck in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: “She continues what Claude Debussy initiated. She meets the unadorned reality and its brutality with a slight detachment, she wraps the action with a veil of sadness, love and clairvoyance. This enables the audience to accept this confidently unobtrusive avant-garde music without resistance. Kaija Saariaho is the greatest master of opera today.”

Innocence was co-commissioned by a consortium of companies that will bring the work to Helsinki, Amsterdam, London, New York, and San Francisco.

View the score here.

Filed under: Aix-en-Provence, new opera, Saariaho

Women’ s Indelible Mark on Classical Music

saariahoMy December began with one of the most thrilling performance experiences in a very long time: the Met Opera premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s L’amour de loin. Another highlight this year was Julia Bullock’s performance in the revised version of Saariaho’s La Passion de Simone at the Ojai Festival.

In honor of Saariaho, here’s a piece I wrote this past spring about women in music:

It took until 1920 for the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to be ratified, guaranteeing female citizens the right to vote. But almost 100 years later, the status quo in classical music still needs a whole lot of shaking up if women are to have any chance of fair representation.

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Filed under: essay, Saariaho, women composers

Courageous Women, Transcendent Visions

JuliaBullock

soprano Julia Bullock

My feature on this year’s Ojai at Berkeley Festival curated by Peter Sellars has now been posted:

This year’s Ojai at Berkeley festival focuses on the artistry and impact of powerful, visionary women—not only as creators and performers but as the subjects of the artworks themselves.

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Filed under: Ojai Festival, Peter Sellars, Saariaho

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