Kaija Saariaho’s True Fire for baritone and orchestra was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, NDR Sinfonieorchester, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre national de France. The world premiere took place on 14 May 2015 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, performed by Gerald Finley (baritone), with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Gustavo Dudamel

  • 3(pic.afl).2.3(bcl).2(cbn)/
  • baritone
  • 27 min
  • Dramaturg: Aleksi Barrière and text: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Seamus Heaney, Trad. Native American, Mahmoud Darwish

Programme Note

This piece has been growing in my mind for several years; the music was emerging before I even started looking for the texts. This made finding the right texts difficult. I spent much time going through my favorite writers, but nothing I knew seemed to fit my project. With the help of dramaturge Aleksi Barrière, who offered new texts and structural solutions, things fell into place. The texts by Seamus Heaney, the Tewa people, and Mahmoud Darwish are interspersed with three short fragments taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Spiritual Laws, a collection included in his Essays.

My preliminary idea was to explore the baritone voice in the context of various texts, finding an organic way to access the different colors of the voice through the texts. It was also important to give Gerald Finley, to whom the piece is written and dedicated, a full range of expression. Even though the general character of the work was in my mind before we found the suitable texts to express it, it is finally these texts that define the vocal expression of the singer and the details of the musical material.

It is only now after having completed the work that I see the common ideas in these contrasting texts: our being surrounded by nature, our perception of this and our being part of it.

Here, briefly, are some thoughts concerning the six movements:

Proposition I, based on a reflection by Emerson, is a syllabic opening section, calm and contemplating. The orchestral chords are like pillars built on the solo voice.

River, on the poem by Seamus Heaney (from the Romanian of Marin Sorescu): melismatic singing draws the orchestra into a lively flow, into elastic verticality.

Proposition II is a short statement from Emerson, calm and expressive. This is the heart of the piece.

Lullaby, based on a traditional Tewa song, is a joyous and tender lullaby, not so concerned with getting the child to sleep but rather with having a great moment together and telling a good story!

Farewell forms again a sharp contrast to the happy mood of Lullaby. It is dark and heavy, and the singing line breaks regularly down into slow speech.

Proposition III closes the cycle with a radiant image of us humans as part of the physical nature around us. The sensation of weightless energy elevates us high beyond gravity.

Paris, April 14th, 2015
Kaija Saariaho


Tines, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France, Elts


Preview the score


  • Kaija Saariaho’s Poetic Montages
    • Kaija Saariaho’s Poetic Montages
    • From the very beginning of her career as a composer, Kaija Saariaho has turned to poetry as a material and inspiration for her music. The forms and logics of poetry have played a defining role in her output since then.



More Info

  • Kaija Saariaho Memorial Concert
    • Kaija Saariaho Memorial Concert
    • 11th July 2023
    • Savonlinna Opera Festival pays tribute to Kaija Saariaho with a memorial concert of her vocal and chamber works.