Maa Preview

So incredibly excited for this tonight

My fascination with the music of Kaija Saariaho, quite possibly the most brilliant living composer (or one of them anyway, sorry Elliot Carter…), began as something purely academic, as do most of my interests in classical music. Because I didn’t grow up with classical music, and because my instrument of choice, the clarinet, didn’t lend itself to the core “canonical” repertoire, I’ve always come to new classical music first as an academic investigation (clarinet, like all instruments, has its own canonical repertoire, but unlike, say, music history’s greatest hits for piano, few outside the woodwind world know these pieces).

I was intrigued by Saariaho because she represented, or so I thought, the idea of spectralism in timbre – treating tone colors as a kind of amorphous, ever changing metamorphosis through the worlds of timbre. Schoenberg called an earlier version of this Klangfarbenmelodie: “sound color melody.” Replacing pitches with timbres to create movement. A clarinet becomes shrill and the sound effortlessly glides into a flute, which is taken up by the otherworldly sound of cello harmonics. Stuff like that.

But it was last year, at the Saariaho concert at Miller Theatre, that I heard her works live for the first time. I had to scrape my jaw up off the floor with a spatula. It really was that good. Sound moves in very different ways when you hear it live – the wavelengths have a different quality when they come from an instrument, rather than when they come from the compressed world of iTunes. I finally “got” Sariaaho when I heard her music live. And as much as I like thorny dissonances, her music, which has certainly moved beyond any traditional concepts of tonality, glides and floats with such lyricism, line, power, and feeling. It’s what Boulez wishes he could sound like. It’s modern and dissonant and noisy, but it is easy to listen to. And it features moments, single crystalline musical events within a piece (like @1:10 in this piece):
that turn your brains into a puddly mess of ecstasy. Needless to say, without ever having heard a single note of Maa, I’m pumped for tonight.

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~ by Jake on September 24, 2010.

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