Alex Ross on the new Saariaho

Alex Ross has some supplementary comments to his recent New Yorker column on Kaija Saariaho's Adriana Mater. He concludes with the interesting observation that "The new mindset seems to be this: Never mind Schoenberg and Stravinsky, it's all about Debussy and Sibelius.'" As far as European music is concerned I think this is largely accurate. Or at least, as Finnish spectralism is having an increasing influence on European concert music, it makes sense. One should, however, pick at this phenomenon just a little. Much as I love spectral music, and have a fondness for many Finnish composers, it should be pointed out that the continuing rise of spectralism, and particularly its Finnish variant, is not just down to awesome choons. What helps, as I have frequently observed on these pages, is the Finn's particular talent and enthusiasm for new music promotion and organisation. The Finnish Music Information Centre is superb, and means I am more informed about current Finnish music than most other countries'. It also reflects the level of care and seriousness with which new music seems to be treated in Finland – and must surely be partly responsible for the strong seam of Finnish composition that we currently enjoy.

But what also helps is that so many of the top Finnish composers also make excellent conductors, and as a result new Finnish music is never far from the thoughts of many of the world's top orchestras and concert halls. In London in recent years there seems to be a celebration of new Finnish music every season. Right on cue, Kalevi Aho's new Clarinet Concerto is being premiered here tomorrow night by the BBC SO and Martin Fröst. It's no surprise, then, that Sibelius should be ripe for reconsideration since he is the national touchstone for so much of this music.

It's hard promotion, graft and the tough sell that shapes the canon – it's how we got so far into Schoenberg and Webern, for all their merits – and its good to think that the same mechanisms are now reshaping that canon in favour of everyone else.

3 thoughts on “Alex Ross on the new Saariaho

  1. I’m going through a major spectralist phase right now: Murail, Grisey, Saariaho. I love L’amour de Loin by Saariaho and hope to see a production of it some day. Any recommendations of good spectralist type things (Finnish or not) to search out beyond the abovementioned three?

  2. Claude Vivier is my favourite of the group mentioned – i’ve heard v little talk of this two DVD music theatre set! The first time i came across his music ws the one w/”Lonely Child” in it. Ross hasn’t mentioned James Dillon but “ignis noster/helle nacht” certainly falls in line even if it isn’t strictly spectral (can’t remember) – its v calm, and he is surprisingly tuneful in other works, too.

    Last night i gave a listen to Grisey’s “Jour contre jour”, which has what sounds like a brass instr leading a prolonged unfolding/de-folding, which is the first thing from him that i’ve immediately liked.
    (Is Iancu Dumitrescu spectral? again he is v much on the ‘cosmic’ end of things but even more noisier than the noisiest Saariaho, perharps the reason why he doesn’t get much of a mention but i really liked some of his music.)

    ws giving a listen to ‘Khorovod’ (for 15 players) by Julian Anderson and ‘gondwana’ by Murail and trying to think as to why so much spectral music simply doesn’t really do it for me, whereas all that ‘gestural’ stuff that Ross isn’t so keen on (i’m assuming he is talking about ‘new complexity’) (a tad unfair, lots of ‘gestures’ get codified into a rich language all of its own) is so much more immediate and listened to..

  3. i’m curious to know where julio heard khorovod by julian anderson … it’s a great piece, i’ve heard it in concerts, but i’ve not been able to find a CD available (though i believe one is forthcoming from Ondine)

    henry – do try and get to hear some vivier if you haven’t already. and there are some fantastic pieces by romanian composers, esp. stefan niculescu – try his 2nd and 3rd symphonies on Olympia (if you can find them!) or a disc of romanian saxophone concertos with daniel kientzy on a french label which i’ve only found on fnac’s website

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