21, February 2013

Kaija Saariaho’s “Sombre” Premiere

The world premiere of Sombre by Kaija Saariaho will take place on February 23 at the Rothko Chapel, Houston, performed by Da Camera Ensemble. The work, for bass flute, percussion, harp and double bass was written for The Serge Koussevitsky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress, and is dedicated to the memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitsky.

Kaija Saariaho writes the following about the new piece

Mark Rothko is an artist whose work I have felt close to for a long time. When Sarah Rothenberg proposed that I write a piece for the Da Camera ensemble, 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 colour of the bass flute sound became a centre of this palette; it had in my mind a close connection to Rothko’s work. I also wanted to include a baritone voice in the ensemble and I started to look for texts.

In my research I came across Ezra Pound’s very last Cantos, or, more precisely, fragments of them. Their minimal form as well as their heartbreaking content seemed to suit this piece perfectly. These three short texts defined the overall structure of my piece, which is divided into three movements. All movements are then divided into two large sections, of which the first one is a musical introduction with a prominent bass flute part. The second section introduces the texts.

The formal solutions were also 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 favourite paintings by Rothko have an overall form of two superimposed fields of living colour.

The title Sombre appeared naturally from the character of the instrumentation, of the texts and above all of these last paintings by Mark Rothko.

The piece has been written for Da Camera, Camilla Hoitenga and Daniel Belcher.