Above: composer Kaija Saariaho
Thursday February 6th, 2014 - Columbia University's Bach, Revisited series pairs a work by a living composer with the Bach work that inspired it. This evening, the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho presented the U.S. premiere of FRISES, her 2011 work for violin and electronics. The work was paired with its inspiration, Bach's Partita in D Minor for solo violin. Violinist Jennifer Koh performed both works.
Ms. Koh first appeared, wearing a striking Odile-black frock, to give a spectacular rendering of the Bach partita. It's quite amazing when you think about what goes into memorizing a piece like this, and I am sure it's only one of many works in Ms. Koh's memory-rep. Spot-lit alone on the bare stage, she gave a virtuoso performance that kept the full house in a state of awed silence: a pure musical experience of the highest calibre. Technical precision and superb control were wed to a palpable emotional connection of player to score, the result producing a sustained applause which drew Ms. Koh back for two bows.
Above: violinist Jennifer Koh
Inspired by the Bach partita, Saariaho's FRISES draws on Baroque elements (passacaglia, ground bass, chaconne) and adds a new dimension with live electronics, performed by Jean-Baptiste Barriere. In a mind-bending performance, Ms. Koh drew us into the mysterious, echoing sonic realm that Ms. Saariaho and Mr. Barriere have created. FRISES casts a hallucinatory spell as kozmic reverberations seem to fill both space and time. Other-worldly and sublime, this music of the spheres has great transportive power and was played with complete mastery by Ms. Koh. In the final movement, one felt the universe melting.
After the intermission, FRISES was played again leaving us in awe of both Ms. Koh's artistry and her stamina. The composer spoke briefly after the music ended, her enchanting voice and the charmingly candid brevity of her responses to questions about her creative process kept her finely wrapped in an enigma and simply made us want to hear more of her astonishing work.
In a program note, Ms. Saariaho made reference to another source of inspiration in writing FRISES: the friezes of artist Odilon Redon. Above: Frise de Fleurs. The movements of FRISES draw their titles from Redon's works.
My prior live encounters with Ms. Saariaho's work: her ballet MAA, choreographed by Luca Veggetti and performed at the Miller Theater in 2010; and FROM THE GRAMMAR OF DREAMS, another Veggetti dancework created in 2013 for the Martha Graham Dance Company. Immediately as the final note of FRISES ended this evening, my companion Monica Wellington and I turned to one another and said: "What a great ballet this would make!" Saariaho pairs her work Frises with its inspiration, Bach's Partita in D minor for solo violin, in a solo recital by Jennifer Koh