Sunday, February 24, 2013

Music for Rothko Chapel with Kaija Saariaho

Yesterday I went to Houston again for my weekly urban cultural fix. At 2:30PM I attended a concert at the Rothko Chapel, featuring Sombre, a new work by Kaija Saariaho commissioned by Da Camera.

Saariaho writes, “Mark Rothko is an artist whose work I have felt close to for a long time," says Saariaho. "When Sarah Rothenberg proposed that I write a piece for Da Camera, to be premiered at the Rothko Chapel, I immediately began to imagine a dark instrumentation which in my mind corresponded to the paintings in the chapel.” The composer also notes that the form of Sombre, with three movements each divided into two sections, was “influenced by my visit to the Rothko Chapel with Camilla Hoitenga in March 2012. We were able to spend some time alone in the chapel with the paintings, and I noticed that of the eight walls, three walls are hung with impressive triptychs. Furthermore, some of my favorite paintings by Rothko have an overall form of two superimposed fields of living color.”

I was especially impressed by  Saariaho's use of instrumental color, and the unique timbres she was able to get out of the instruments. In particular, her treatment of the bass flute, percussion, and harp was simply extraordinary. As if this wasn't enough stimulation for one day, director Peter Sellars flew in from LA for today's performance. When I asked him if he was indeed Peter Sellars, he asked me what my name was and then hugged me! After the concert, I told him that I attended the Paris premiere of Nixon in China in December 1991 when I was just 19 years old. He seemed genuiely interested in learning about me and my work (especially the upcoming premiere of "The Memory Stone"). Peter was such a joy to talk with and embodied such humility, grace, and earnestness.

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