Last night, after a few hours wandering around mid-town New York and getting attacked by a Starbucks tea, which left a nasty red burn on my left hand, I got to hear a full concert of Kaija Saariaho’s music for voice and electronics. The program spanned 20 years of her output, and featured a fantastic French vocal ensemble Solistes XXI, along with video projection by Jean-Baptiste Barrière. All I can say is – magnifique!
I hung around after the concert, looking like an overexcited stalker, trying to squeeze my way through the adoring crowd to the great composer herself. My breathless “Hello-I’m-Anna-Pidgorna-I’m-participating-in-your-workshop” was greeted with a cool, Nordic, “Good. Thank you for coming. I will see you tomorrow.” And that is how I met Kaija Saariaho.
This morning I got to meet all the other Carnegie Hall workshop participants: five other composers and seven string players. We spent the whole day with Kaija and her long time collaborator, the cellist Anssi Karttunen. The string players bravely worked their way through the new pieces while the composers sweated and twitched anxiously over their scores suppressing minor heart attacks. Bravo to the outstanding players! I feel very lucky to have a whole week to absorb their heavenly sound. Kaija’s and Anssi’s questions and suggestions were just the right mix of artistic considerations and practical reality.
After all the read-throughs, the composers had a great coaching session with Kaija to discuss any problems in need of immediate treatment. Having calmed their battered nerves with beer, everyone is now cooped up in their rooms tearing their hair and trying to figure out how to write out their accelerandi or revolutionize formal structure.
I got off pretty easy overall. I mostly have to think about tempo and durations. I can’t seem to find a good way of handling those. After a few attempts at precision resulted in ridiculous tempo changes every two measures, I seem to have given up on tempo markings altogether. “Fermata boxes,” my own invention, also absolve me of the responsibility to settle on any sort of duration. It’s all done in the name of liberating the performer. But now I’m wondering: where do you draw the line between liberty and laziness?