Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho has had some powerfully idiosyncratic mentors; after learning the austere Nordic style at the Sibelius Academy in the late 70s, she studied with British composer Brian Ferneyhough, an advocate of intricate, even brutal complexity, then in the early 80s began a meticulous exploration of tonal colors and textural patterns at IRCAM, Pierre Boulez's workshop in Paris. But these apprenticeships notwithstanding, she's developed a distinctive voice of her own, one that hints at each influence without submitting to any of them. Though her music can evoke a remote, foreboding landscape, she's also given to splashing it unexpectedly with lush sonorities; she eschews serialist orthodoxy in favor of a tonally anchored harmonic language that resorts to dissonance only as a special effect. In chamber pieces from the 70s and 80s, she used electronics and computer-controlled playback to explore tiny variations in pitch and timbre; more recently she's been writing for traditional orchestras, in an idiom that's simultaneously elemental and ethereal--the orchestra might play a series of luminous, monolithic blocks of sound, pierced suddenly by an ecstatic soprano voice or a thunderous timpani roll. This week the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will give the local premiere of one of Saariaho's earliest orchestral works, Du Cristal, written in 1990. In keeping with its title, the work is a sonic analogy to the process of crystallization: the orchestra sounds nebulous and chaotic at first, gradually organizes itself, then thins into transparent silence. For the CSO's more conservative subscribers, Du Cristal ought to make a good introduction to Saariaho; the earmarks of her mature style are evident--minutely shifting fields of tonal color, dense orchestral textures, dramatic leaps and glides by single instruments--and as a whole the piece invites attention, rather than demanding it. At the podium will be Franz Welser-Most, one of Europe's foremost interpreters of the Romantic repertoire; he recently conducted Du Cristal with the Cleveland Orchestra, and come next season, he'll take over as that ensemble's music director. Also on the program are Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 27 (with soloist Radu Lupu) and Dvorak's Symphony no. 7. Thursday through Saturday, February 21 through 23, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Trevor Leighton.