The Los Angeles Philharmonic will be giving the World Premiere of a new commission by Kaija Saariaho. True Fire is
written for orchestra and solo baritone and will be performed at concerts May 14-17. The composer says this about the work:
This piece has been growing in my mind for several years; the music was emerging before I even started looking for the texts. This made finding the right texts difficult. I spent much time going through my favorite writers, but nothing I knew seemed to fit my project.
I finally ended up using six texts from different sources, but which seemed to fit into my plan. The texts from Seamus Healey, American Indian traditions, and Mahmoud Darwish are interspersed in three short fragments taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Spiritual Laws, a collection included in his Essays.
My preliminary idea was to explore the baritone voice in the context of various texts, finding an organic way to access the different colors of the voice through the texts.
It was also important to give Gerald Finley, to whom the piece is written and dedicated, a full range of expression.
Even though the general character of the work was in my mind before I had found the suitable texts, it is finally these texts that define the vocal expression of the singer and the details of the musical material.
It is only now after having completed the work that I see the common ideas in these contrasting texts: our being surrounded by nature, our perception of this, and our being part of it.
Though I am excited about this new addition to the repertoire from such an important contemporary composer, I find the way the work is being treated in the promotional materials for the concert to be beyond discouraging.
True Fire is programmed among three works by Ravel (Concerto for Left Hand, Bolero, and Le tombeau de Couperin), all of which get top billing over this premiere – the event has been titled:”Dudamel Conducts Ravel”. Saariaho’s name isn’t even included in the prose description of the concert on the LAPhil website:
Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand was written for the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm in World War I. Ravel composed it after a four-month concert tour of North America. During that tour, he met George Gershwin and attended a jazz concert in Harlem, increasing his admiration for the American idiom, which influenced aspects of the concerto.
Come for: Three Ravel hits in one evening, with special guest Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
And more: A major premiere for baritone and orchestra by one of the world’s top composers, featuring the leading baritone of his generation, Gerald Finley.
How disappointing that even though she is described as “one of the world’s top composers” her name couldn’t be included with the names of: the other composer on the program, the man conducting the concert, the man who inspired the Concerto for Left Hand, the man Ravel met when touring North America, or the two male soloists. That is alone from the fact that the world premiere of this commissioned work, which by the LA Phil’s own account is the longest piece on the program, is not reason enough for patrons to attend the concert – just the “and more” bonus tacked on at the end. What a missed opportunity to not only acknowledge Saariaho’s work as one of the most accomplished and sought after composers of her time, and her collaboration with the LA Philharmonic, but to attract audience beyond people who enjoy an evening of Ravel.