A Saariaho Summer

A Saariaho Summer
© Ralph Mecke

Kaija Saariaho has seen a lot of attention this year, from being Musical America’s Composer of the Year to winning the Nemmers Prize. This summer her music is heard across the country, from the Santa Fe Opera to the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center.

Saariaho’s opera, Adriana Mater , commissioned by both the Finnish and Paris National Operas, receives its US premiere at the Santa Fe Opera on July 26. The acclaimed production premiered in 2006, and directed by Peter Sellars, was hailed by the New York Times as a “work on an emotional scale only occasionally heard in contemporary opera.” In Santa Fe, the original production sees Spanish conductor Ernest Martinez Izquierdo in his American debut. The title role of Adriana is sung by mezzo-soprano Monica Groop, who is joined by soprano Pia Freund, tenor Joseph Kaiser, and bass-baritone Matthew Best. The opera, with libretto by Lebanese author Amin Maalouf, is set during a time of modern war and pits Adriana, her son, and the boy’s soldier-father in a tangled drama: the soldier has raped Adriana, who keeps the child; as the boy matures, Adriana is burdened with her son’s potentially violent nature; however, his fate is tested when he is faced with the opportunity to seek revenge on his father.

Saariaho’s latest staged work, her oratorio La Passion de Simone , commissioned by a consortium of international organizations including Lincoln Center, Barbican and New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna receives its US premiere at the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, where Saariaho has been named 2008 Composer-In-Residence. The work for soprano, chorus, and orchestra is a third collaboration between Peter Sellars, Amin Maalouf, and Saariaho, and is based on the life and writings of the French moral philosopher and social activist Simone Weil. Saariaho comments, “the combination of Weil’s severe asceticism and her passionate quest for truth has appealed to me ever since I first read her thoughts.” The oratorio takes the form of a medieval Passion play, with its 15 “stations” representing key moments in Weil’s life. Weil died in 1943, starving to death because she refused to eat more than her countrymen suffering in Nazi occupied France. This performance features soprano Dawn Upshaw for whom the role was created.

The Mostly Mozart Festival also features Saariaho’s stunning cello concerto, Notes on Light, performed by cellist Anssi Karttunen and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Susanna Mälkki, conductor. As well, the Festival presents Saariaho’s Preludes for piano and Ballade for piano (Tuija Hakkila, piano), Sept Papillons for cello (Anssi Karttunen, cello), Serenatas, and Terra Memoria (Emerson Quartet).

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