Sentimental work: Jennifer Koh on Kaija Saariaho’s 'Graal théâtre'


Saariaho’s violin concerto contains multiple layers of meaning for the US violinist – as well as a personal connection with the composer

This article is from the July 2018 issue of The Strad

In the mid-2000s I watched a DVD of Kaija Saariaho’s opera L’Amour de loin, and was completely blown away. It was the first piece I’d heard by the Finnish composer and her musical language was a complete revelation to me.

I fell into a rabbit hole of discovery, finding everything she’d written and discovering how it spoke to me and, of course, I wanted to find out what she’d composed for the violin. At that time there wasn’t much: a Nocturne in 1994, which led to her first violin concerto, Graal théâtre, which premiered the year after. I’ve performed both of them many times since then, and I’ve recorded them along with the violin works Kaija has written subsequently, for an upcoming CD.

Kaija’s music has a particular resonance for me, which I realised as soon as I heard it. There’s a sense of internal exploration in every piece, an emotional journey within a complex structure. This is particularly evident in Graal…

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