Welcome Saariaho

Keith Gallasch

This was a special experience. Saariaho is a distinctive composer, often blending acoustic instruments with electronics, often with a dramatic intensity but also an unbroken line of development that separates her from her modernist peers and precursors and aligns her somewhat with eastern European and Russian composers but without their melancholic spirituality. I’d had the pleasure of immersing myself in her Prisma CD before attending the concert. It includes Dawn Upshaw singing Lonh, Anssi Karttunen playing the cello work Pres, and Camilla Hoitenga on flute for NoaNoa. In concert, soprano Alison Morgan managed admirably the sudden shifts from full voice to spoken word to whisper, sustaining the stream of sound that marks the work, faultlessly mixing it with the electronics and recorded voices. Pres is a more intense, argumentative work. I thought Geoffrey Gartner’s attack was bordering on the romantic, but listening again to Karttunen’s slightly more austere approach, I reckoned the difference was primarily a visual one. Witnessing the demands on the player in concert is a reminder of how much the CD experience can be an abstraction of a performance. Gartner’s performance was a fine one, fluent in the gearshifts in the second movement over its propulsive foundation and organic in his approach to the passionate, often moody third. Flautist Kathleen Gallagher’s account of NoaNoa was rivetting, ranging from the guttural to the spoken to the ethereal with ease, and providing some of the most interesting of the acoustic-electronic synthesis in the concert. Harpist Marshall Maguire deftly played Fall, a shorter work with a minimalist insistency that demanded an instant replay. The introduction to Saariaho’s work at the beginning of the concert by musicologist Anni Heino was very welcome. By the way, the Prisma CD (Montaigne naïve, MO 782087) is accompanied by an excellent CD-ROM that includes many hours of biographical and critical information, analyses of individual works as you listen to them, associated imagery, an entertaining opportunity to rearrange a Saariaho work and an eery photo-image of the composer morphing through all the 50 years of her life. Ensemble Offspring have done a fine job of introducing Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho to Sydney audiences with this superb concert.

Ensemble Offspring, A Portrait of Kaija Saariaho, The Studio, Sydney Opera House, July 7

RealTime issue #50 Aug-Sept 2002 pg. 9

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2002