Kaija Saariaho’s Maan Varjot was jointly commissioned by Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Orchestre National de Lyon, Southbank Centre and the Philharmonia Orchestra. The world premiere took place in Montreal on 29 May 2014, given by the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, with Olivier Latry (organ), conducted by Kent Nagano. The French premiere took place during June 2014, given by the Orchestre National de Lyon with Olivier Latry (organ). The UK premiere took place at the Southbank, London on 26 June 2014, given by the Philharmonia Orchestra with Olivier Latry (organ), conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Unlike some other instruments, the organ doesn't need to fight to rise above the orchestra; it can do it any time, effortlessly. But I didn't want to create a duel of decibels, and I don't consider this piece an organ concerto. Rather, it is a work with a prominent solo organ part, some kind of a fruitful and inspiring companionship, in which two strong but civilised personalities can co-exist without having to fight too much for the place in the sun.
The Finnish title Maan varjot (Earth's shadows) was inspired by some lines in Shelley's ode to John Keats:
The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven's light forever shines, Earth's shadows fly;
I chose the title in memory of my father.
My relation to the organ can also explain the use of Finnish language: it was my instrument before I became a full time composition student. But regardless of my intimate relation and affection for it, I haven't written much music for organ. When I came back to it, I returned in my mind to the period when I used to play the organ as a student in Finland. Another important source of inspiration has been Olivier Latry who interprets the organ part.
Maan varjot was jointly commissioned by Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Orchestre National de Lyon, Southbank Centre and the Philharmonia Orchestra.