This 12 months’s Ojai Pageant started Thursday evening with a tribute to Kaija Saariaho, the Finnish composer who died earlier this month. For Ojai, Steven Schick carried out an ethereal percussion piece impressed by the moss backyard on the Kyoto temple Saiho-ji, which is the greenest place I’ve ever visited. Saiho’s overpowering mossy scent engenders a fabulous sense of peace, and Saariaho’s miniature, the fifth motion of her “Six Japanese Gardens,” magically captures it, even when skilled, as I did, through the pageant’s livestream.
At exactly the identical second, Saariaho’s life-long good friend, Esa-Pekka Salonen, occurred to be main the San Francisco Symphony in a efficiency of her war-themed second opera, “Adriana Mater.” The premiere in Paris 17 years in the past had been a shocker. “Adriana” examines the way in which battle ravishes love and the sacrifices required to keep up equanimity. Saariaho tells us not what battle is however what it means.
There was an infinite outpouring of affection for Saariaho on listening to of her loss of life at 70 from glioblastoma. Composers are admired; they’re revered; they get beneath our pores and skin, leaving us with sounds that stay in our consciousness; the very best can appear important to our very being. However beloved? That’s uncommon.
Saariaho was all the above. Her music has knowledgeable facets of European, American and Asian music, and she or he is being effectively and correctly eulogized. Alongside together with her key contributions to twenty first century opera, she leaves us with an expansive set of solo items (she had a specific aptitude for flute, violin, cello and the voice), chamber works and orchestral scores. She steadily employed electronics to reinforce the sonic aura. The adjective mostly used to explain her music (and her) is luminous — no different will do.
As a member of the era of Finnish composers and performers who burst upon the world musical stage within the Eighties, Saariaho, together with Salonen and Magnus Lindberg, shaped an inseparable trio of firebrand composers when college students on the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. They and their pals created the rebellious Korvat Auki (Ears Open!) collective to advertise — and generally pressure upon an unsuspecting public — essentially the most superior types of rigorously devised music. If music wasn’t tough, it wasn’t price it for them.
There have been specific obstacles for Saariaho. She by no means favored being referred to as a pioneering girl composer, as a result of she felt making the excellence was, in itself, demeaning. However Finland had had no ladies composers of word who might function a task mannequin, and digital music was seen as a person’s realm. “Who would hearken to Saariaho’s music,” Finland’s main music critic, Seppo Heikinheimo, wrote in 1990, “if she have been an unsightly girl?” This was what she was up in opposition to.
Interested in IRCAM, the pc music studio Pierre Boulez created for Centre Pompidou, Saariaho wound up settling in Paris. A brand new era of composers at IRCAM had begun using computer systems to create a harmonic language constituted of the overtones of pitches they dubbed spectral music. It was the logical subsequent step for French music after the Impressionism of Debussy and Ravel, adopted by the post-serialism of Boulez.
However whereas Saariaho typically set her vocal music to French texts, she favored to explain herself as a Finn in France. An outsider. She put herself in her music however as an observer. The consequence was work that felt goal but remained intimate. Or is it the opposite means round? In both case, we see ourselves although her ears.
What has gotten much less consideration is the position our West Coast performed in all this. Within the late Eighties, Saariaho spent a 12 months instructing on the College of California San Diego. She was, in a way, returning to the supply. The college’s pc music program, together with the groundbreaking one at Stanford College, was Boulez’s mannequin for IRCAM.
As soon as Salonen turned music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1992, he often programmed Saariaho, taking part in and premiering works in each the common orchestra live performance collection and the new-music Inexperienced Umbrella. This rapidly let to her introduction to Peter Sellars, who guided her into opera, starting with “L’Amour de Loin” (“Love From Afar”), which Sellars directed and which turned Saariaho’s best-known work. Its premiere on the 2000 Salzburg Pageant felt nearly L.A. from afar. The conductor was Kent Nagano, one other Californian who had simply been named the primary music director of Los Angeles Opera. Funding got here from Beverly Hills philanthropist Betty Freeman.
In “L’Amour,” like a lot of Saariaho’s work, music resonates in each significant sense of the phrase. It resonates because the vibrations of pure bodily sound, be it that of the human voice, of devices or sounds produced by electronics. It resonates because the internal essence of soul. It resonates as the sunshine waves of the mysterious universe, their spectra of colour seen and invisible.
That was Saariaho. In her visits right here over the previous 35 years, she invariably left behind dollops of her luminescence. Nonetheless, we helped embolden that glow. She took appreciable inspiration from working with our soloists and ensembles, as she did from the bodily atmosphere, SoCal spirituality and our expertise. The L.A. Phil and Walt Disney Live performance Corridor have been one other dwelling.
The Sellars/Saariaho collaboration continued with one extraordinary work after one other, no two alike. In 2016, the 12 months Sellars served as music director of the Ojai Pageant, he made Saariaho the featured composer. Her relationships with such L.A. performers as pianist Gloria Cheng, violinist Movses Pogossian and the Calder Quartet led to transcendent recordings of her works, inserting them in wider contexts of composers starting from Bach to Messiaen.
Saariaho’s final public look was shortly earlier than her loss of life for the U.Ok. premiere of her triumphant ultimate opera, “Innocence,” which can attain San Francisco Opera subsequent 12 months. Proper after she had completed it, in 2019, she got here to Disney for the L.A. Phil’s efficiency of her new harp concerto, “Trans.” On that journey, she visited UCSD, and the drive on the 5 freeway between La Jolla and L.A. impressed one among her final main orchestral works, “Vista,” simply as a visit to Kyoto 30 years in the past had led to “Six Japanese Gardens.”
Japan and L.A. remained very a lot allied in Saariaho. In 2015, Saariaho and Sellars collaborated on “Solely the Sound Stays,” a starkly good opera primarily based on Nôh performs. The U.S. premiere had been scheduled for Ojai, however due to the complexity of the electronics, there was no website the place it will work.
Nonetheless, for us, the Saariaho sound very a lot stays. She tamed the pc, and at what appears a cosmic second within the interplay between humanity and expertise, she issues greater than ever. Along with her music and her machines and her luminosity, Saariaho reminds us of what’s at stake.