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Kaija Saariaho

Publisher: Chester Music

Nymphéa Reflection (2001)
commissioned by the Schleswig Holstein Festival
Work Notes
dedicated to Christoph Eschenbach
Text Writer
Arseniy Tarkovsky
Chester Music Ltd
Sub Category
String Orchestra
Year Composed
27 Minutes
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Programme Note
Kaija Saariaho Nymphéa Reflection (2001)
The starting point for Nymphea Reflection came with the idea of arranging my string quartet Nymphea.
Then, when I actually started working on the piece, I realised that, for many reasons, a straight arrangement was impossible and that I would need to find a completely new starting point. I ended up designing a formal concept of six separate sections, each being of a very different character. These six sections have been named after their expressive nature: Sostenuto, Feroce, Dolcissimo, Lento espressivo, Furioso and Misterioso.
I started off by keeping some of the string textures of the quartet and instead of actually using electronics, I decided to simulate some of the electronic processing by means of orchestration. In the last part I have used as a timbral effect a poem by Arseniy Tarkovsky, which is whispered by the musicians. The text is not heard as such, but its spirit is present in the whole work. Reading this poem might be much better preparation to listen to the piece than my attempts to trace some of the compositional elements, which reveal so little of the music itself:

Now Summer is gone
And might never have been.
In the sunshine it's warm,
But there has to be more.

It all came to pass,
All fell into my hands
Like a five-petalled leaf,
But there has to be more.

Nothing evil was lost,
Nothing good was in vain,
All ablaze with clear light
But there has to be more.
Life gathered me up
Safe under it's wing,
My luck always held,
But there has to be more.

Not a leaf was burned up
Not a twig ever snapped
Clean as glass is the day
But there has to be more.

(Translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair)

© Kaija Saariaho

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Tapiola Chamber Choir
    Pia Freund (Soprano), Gabriel Suovanen (Baritone)
    Jukka-Pekka Saraste
  • Ensemble
    Los Angeles Philharmonic
    Anu Komsi (soprano), Riikka Rantanen (contralto), Petri Alanko (alto flute), Anssi Karttunen (cello), Petteri Salomaa (baritone), John Storgards (violin), Pia Freund (soprano), Gabriel Suovanen (baritone), Karita Mattila (soprano)
    Esa-Pekka Salonen
  • 19 MAR 2020
    Wollongong Town Hall / Wollongong / Australia
    Australian Chamber Orchestra
    Richard Tognetti, conductor

    Other Dates:
    21 March - Llewellyn Hall / Canberra / Australia
    22 March - Arts Centre Melbourne / Melbourne / Australia
    23 March - Arts Centre Melbourne / Melbourne / Australia
    24,25,28,29 March - City Recital Hall Angel Place / Sydney / Australia
    26 March - Newcastle City Hall / Newcastle / Australia
    30 March - QPAC Concert Hall / Brisbane / Australia
    31 March - Adelaide Town Hall / Adelaide / Australia
    1 April - Perth Concert Hall / Perth / Australia
  • 18 APR 2020
    Shed 6 / Wellington / New Zealand
    New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
    Hamish McKeich, conductor

    Other Dates:
    21 April - Q Theatre / Auckland / New Zealand

Kaija Saariaho's single-movement Nymphea for quartet and live electronics was written under the influence of the spectralists Gerard Grisey and Tristan Murail. It's a work of ever varying textures, surfaces, colours. The Cikadas play everything superbly.
Stephen Pettitt, Sunday Times,17/07/2005
Saariaho's "Nymphea Reflection" (2001), which received its U.S. premiere on Thursday, strikes me as a masterpiece. It began as a work for string quartet and electronics called "Nymphea" (1987); in augmenting and recasting the score for string orchestra, the composer made a concentrated effort to simulate the electronic passages with purely instrumental sounds and -- unforgettably -- with the hushed, ghostly voices of the players as they whisper all but inaudibly through a poem by Arseniy Tarkovsky. "Nymphea Reflection" is what used to be called a "sound piece." Saariaho has little interest in melodies, harmonic structure or any sort of traditional "development." Rather, she immerses us in a sort of sonic weather, which surrounds and envelops us, metamorphosing slowly as we listen. A comparison might be made to works such as Krysztof Penderecki's "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" or Gyorgy Ligeti's "Atmospheres," both of which were constructed almost geometrically, in stacked blocks of sound. What sets Saariaho apart, however, is the delicate surety of her musical sensibility: For all of its radicalism, "Nymphea Reflection" is surprisingly gentle on the ear. It is, in fact, a positive pleasure to listen to: sensual, engrossing, almost cinematic, a music of dreams. Slatkin and his forces gave "Nymphea Reflection" six rehearsals: time well spent, for it would be hard to imagine a more lambent and authoritative performance.
Tim Page, The Washington Post,19/10/2002
Eschenbach and the orchestra took centre stage for the UK premiere of Kaija Saariaho's Nymphea Reflection. The work revisits Saariaho's Nymphea, originally composed for string quartet. In "reflecting" the music for full string orchestra, she has transformed and amplified its gestures and power. Reflection is a metaphor for the musical processes she uses in the new piece. The music begins with a single pitch, out of which blooms a lush, microtonal haze. It is as if the minute complexities of that initial note had been refracted through a musical prism. The texture is awash with glissandos and noises, making the string orchestra sound like an ensemble of weird, electronic effects. There are also more conventional moments: a solo violin melody hovers above this pool of sound, and is itself mirrored by the other parts. Eschenbach inspired the LPO to a searingly intense performance, capturing the finesse and ferocity of this fascinating work.
Tom Service, The Guardian,22/05/2002
The latest revelation was the British premiere on Sunday of her Nymphea Reflection for string orchestra. The work is not so much a tribute to Monet as a reinvention of one of Saariaho’s own earlier works. Nymphea, of 1987, derived from a detailed computer analysis of the sound of a cello, and live electronics were used to expand the sound-spectrum of a string quartet. Nymphea Reflection abandons electronics and works on the bows and the strings of the players themselves. Six episodes are abstracted from the earlier work, creating a 20-minute suite of remarkable subtlety and refinement. The music is created from microscopic variations in colour, in the speed of vibrato and trills, in harmonics and in shivering glissandos. And, whether in the slowly diffused humming of the opening, the ever tighter, tauter pulsating of the Feroce episode, or the aching lyricism rising from within the final whispering voices, Saariaho has come nearer than ever before to recreating the primal energies of nature’s own rhythms in wind, water and human breath.
Hilary Finch, The Times,22/05/2002
"An superlative musical experience Elmshorn. Eveything fitted perfectly at this concert: the great orchestra, Sinfonietta Cracovia, with its extraordinary conductor John Axelrod and the breathtaking pianist Christoph Eschenbach. … John Axelrod, a young, charismatic and talented conductor, and the Sinfonietta Cracovia, an orchestra characterised by exceptional refinement and beauty of sound, premiered a new work by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, who was present at the performance. Commissioned by the Schleswig Holstein Musik Festival, the work was originally conceived as an arrangement of the string quartet Nymphea. However, during the composition process the composer found a new starting point and developed a structure dividing the work into six separate parts which differ greatly. Instead of using electronics she decided to replace them with the acoustic possibilities of orchestral colours. During the last part of the work the musicians whispered a poem by Arsenij Tarkowski. After the performance the enthusiastic audience gave an extended standing ovation."
Ilse Rudat, Uetersener Nachrichten,18/08/2001
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