Kaija Saariaho is among the most successful contemporary composers. And rightly so. She has developed her own style, connecting the tonal with the atonal. Without concessions, but also without losing touch with her listeners.
Once a student of Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber, she very quickly abandoned serialism. Saariaho uses a lot of electronics that she interweaves with polyphony. This creates a very exciting mix of styles: very modern and abstract, yet with easy-to-follow melodies.
Her music is serene, sometimes quietly rippling along (I don’t mean that in a negative way!) and very meditative, often reminding me of Messiaen. And of paintings, as her music is all about colour and colour nuances, which is not surprising when you know that she first studied at art school. I like this a lot.
L’amour de loin (Love from afar), for me her most beautiful opera, is based on a poem by an unknown 12th-century Provençal troubadour, Jaufré Rudel. In it, he sings of an imaginary distant lover, not knowing that she actually exists. A pilgrim returning from the “fairyland” (Lebanon) has seen her: she is called Clémence, she is a countess and she lives in Tripoli.
Our troubadour will have none of it; after all, love is supposed to be pure, abstract and especially distant. Still, he cannot resist the temptation and travels after his faraway lover. It doesn’t end well. Or does it? He dies, but blissfully. And in her arms.
Harmonia Mundi released a recording of the opera in September 2009. The performance is truly outstanding. Daniel Belcher is very convincing as the, desperately in love, troubadour and Marie-Ange Todorovitch is a fine pilgrim.
The palm of honour, however, goes to Ekaterina Lekhina (Clémence). Her prayer at the end of the opera cannot leave anyone unmoved.
The Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester under Kent Nagano plays in a very evocative and visual way, you don’t need a director for that.
Sit back and let the music (and your own imagination) do the rest. A world will open up for you.
Kaija Saariaho L’amour de loin Ekaterina Lekhina, Marie-Ange Todorovitch, Daniel Belcher. Deutches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin en Rundfunkchor Berlin/ Kent Nagano. Harmonia Mundi HMC 801937.38
Susanna Phillips sings an excerpt of Clémence’s final prayer from Act V of Kaija Saariaho’s “L’Amour de Loin.” Production: Robert Lepage. Conductor: Susanna Mälkki. 2016-17 season
An excerpt from Act IV of Kaija Saariaho’s “L’Amour de Loin.” Production: Robert Lepage. Conductor: Susanna Mälkki. 2016-17 season.
Scène du Pèlerin (Monica Groop) avec Clémence, Comtesse de Tripoli(Dawn Upshaw)
L’Amour de loin (Kaija Saariaho) – warm-up from the Opera Ballet Vlaanderen
LÁmour de loin (complete) from the Finnish National Opera