HUSH is written for the trumpet player Verneri Pohjola, whose rich musical background and taste for extended techniques, experimentation, and improvisation have inspired me. During the writing of this piece, we have met on a regular basis, and Verneri has enlightened me as to the technical possibilities of the trumpet. Each concerto is in a way a portrait of the soloist for whom it was written, and so this one is his.
As the solo trumpet played an important part in my violin concerto Graal Théâtre (1994), which was my first concerto, I was drawn to revisiting that material in what is to be my last concerto. I was also inspired by another kind of revisitation: Aleksi Barrière’s text Not a Knight, written in 2018 to be spoken around and inside Graal Théâtre as a form of illuminated marginalia to the music. The titles of HUSH and of its four movements come from this text, where the Grail legends resonate as a personal and collective quest of making music, and leaving an imprint into the silence.
The first movement, “Let the thin air sing”, is an exposition that presents most of the material, including the title word ‘hush’. Starting from a low A-flat, it moves upwards to the higher register.
The second movement, “Dream of falling” explores glissandi of the solo trumpet, alone and in association with various sections of the orchestra, from the piccolos to the double basses, ending with a low B growl that is one of the trumpet’s lowest sounds. (This was workshopped with Verneri improvising on the idea of a sound falling down the sides of a well.)
The third movement, “What ails you?”, is dramatic but cold, insofar that I refrained from using any accelerandi and rallentandi, and the rhythm stays strictly mechanical. This maddening rhythm was inspired by the monthly scans I underwent in MRI machines during my illness.
The last movement “Ink the silence” is an accompanied trumpet solo moving forward through an orchestral landscape. When the movement stops, we understand that it was the landscape that was moving and not the traveller, and we peek beyond the façade of illusions, into a silence that we have loaded with memories.
I am indebted to the assistance I have received from Nastaran Yazdani and Anssi Karttunen in notating music when my illness impaired my motor skills. The support of many people has been instrumental to the making of this piece, and I have dedicated individual movements to them: Verneri Pohjola, my husband Jean-Baptiste Barrière, and my doctors Dimitri Psimaras and Myriam Kirstetter. The piece in its entirety is dedicated to the family I leave behind on my own journey to silence.
- Kaija Saariaho, March 2023 Instrumentation
2222 4000 13 0, cel, str (pic, afl, ehn, bcl), trp solo Category
Works for Soloist(s) and Orchestra Premiere
Verneri Pohjola, trumpet, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Susanna Mälkki, cond. Helsinki Festival, August 24, 2023, Helsinki Movements
1. Make the thin air sing, 2. Dream of falling, 3. What ails you?, 4. Ink the silence Commisioned by / dedications
Commissioned by Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Festival, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Asko|Schönberg, Muziekgebouw, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Lahti Symphony Orchestra. Written for Verneri Pohjola.
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