The Winter Sky

Back last spring, when I saw the Toronto Symphony perform Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto with soloist Yefim Bronfman, they opened the concert with a tremendously atmospheric work I’ve been trying to track down in the last couple of weeks. All I could remember is that it was by a female composer of Finnish extraction. Unfortunately, I had discarded the program, so I wasn’t having much luck–until I ran across it on another orchestra’s schedule.  The work is Ciel d’Hiver, and the composer is Kaija Saariaho.  Here it is:

The title means “winter sky”, and it absolutely perfectly captures a mood of bright stars glittering upon a black velvet canvas, perhaps even a shimmering aurora.  This kind of evocation seems to be a bit of a trademark of hers:

“Saariaho has often talked about having a kind of synaesthesia, one that involves all of the senses, saying:

… the visual and the musical world are one to me … Different senses, shades of colour, or textures and tones of light, even fragrances and sounds blend in my mind. They form a complete world in itself.”

Saariaho is a prolific and accomplished composer who has experimented with electronic music and written quite a number of operas.  (In fact, one of hers was the first by a female composer performed at the Met in over 100 years).

This, in particular, is one I want to track down:

“…Six Japanese Gardens (1994), a percussion piece accompanied by a prerecorded electronic layer of the Japanese nature, traditional instruments, and chanting of Buddhist monks. During her visit to Tokyo in 1993, she expanded her original percussion conception into a semi-indeterminate piece. It consists of six movements that each represent a garden composed of traditional Japanese architecture, by which she was inspired rhythmically. Especially in movement IV and V, she explored many possibilities of complex polyrhythm in liberated instrumentation. She said: … I felt a connection between architecture and music: both art forms select and introduce materials, let them grow, give them form, prepare new contrasting elements, create different relations between the materials.”  (From her Wikipedia entry.)