Music For Writers: The Colorist Kaija Saariaho’s ‘Instants’ Of Love

Image - iStockphoto: germi_p
Image – iStockphoto: germi_p

‘Perfume Of The Instant’

While writers talk of “color commentary,” they actually mean something not that different from what in music we might call great “colorists” among composers.

And in world music, Finland’s composers are surely among those most prized for their work in creating sonic “color.” Einojuhani Rautavaara is perhaps chief among the great masters of orchestral shades and textures, and the tradition goes back, of course, to Jean Sibelius and Uuno Klami and others.

From the moment you hit play on this very recently released album — Kaija Saariaho: Émilie Suite, Quatre Instants, Terra Memoria from Ondine — you know that Paris-based Helsinki native Kaija Saariaho stands among those leaders in her sheer mastery of music’s intimacy with the soul.

Under the baton of Marko Letonja, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg is, I think it’s safe to say, as much in the thrall of this artist’s spacious vision as we are. The first of three works, all drawn from the past decade of the composer’s work — she is now 61 — is the Quatre Instants. And her deep dive into Attente — as in longing — is arresting.

Tinged with the barest whisper of a finger cymbal, a cavernous mystery is suspended in shuddering, liquid foreboding at the outset of this fascinating work, the strings and a soft gong’s rumble rolling into your mind’s view as you listen.

Thanks to New York Public Radio’s Q2 Music 24/7 contemporary-classical streaming service Q2Music, you can hear the album here as you read along. The CD is this week’s Album of the Week offering, and a terrific choice, in fact, to follow the opulent vistas of an American colorist, the composer Andrew Norman.

The voice you hear join the orchestra at about a minute-and-a-half into this first Instant is that of Karen Vourc’h’s agile soprano.

Those who know the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko may find Vourc’h’s opening bars almost eerily reflective of the murmuring, deeper-toned  modesty with which she enters the sound-scape. From the panicky, tension of the second movement, Douleur — Torment — past the luxuriant glide of Parfum de l’instant, Vourc’h is unquestionably in command of Saariaho’s material.

By the fourth movement, Resonances — Echoes — the gathering dread and wonder that Saariaho has conjured is securely entrusted to Vourc’h, who can float up into her top register on a harp’s run and open quick in head-voice — she captures a sort of blossoming sound, at once full of surprise as it might convey warning.

She’s singing texts created for Saariaho by the Lebanese-French author Amin Maalouf. his cycle of songs is a kind of tour of moments in the experience of love. When you hear these searching, poised lyrics in the context of Saariaho’s music, you can only be glad that the “Four Moments” were adapted by the composer for orchestra from their original voice-and-piano creation. All twinkling doubt and brave perseverance, those Resonances  stay with you, echoing later in curious moments when you think of your own affections and, perhaps, misgivings.

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There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son

Writing on the Ether: Music For Writers: The Colorist Kaija Saariaho’s ‘Instants’ Of Love

Originally published by Thought Catalog at


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