In March 2012, internationally renowned composer Kaija Saariaho and acclaimed cellist Anssi Karttunen guided six composers and seven string players through the collaborative process from a composition's conception to the realization of its first performance. World premieres of six resulting new works were held in Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall on March 12, 2012, along with the US premieres of Kaija Saariaho's Aure and Cloud Trio. Below, participating violist Anna Pelczer offers her perspective on the opportunity to work with Kaija Saariaho and Anssi Karttunen.
I had performed Kaija Saariaho's music in the past and found it wonderfully ethereal and organic, so the opportunity to meet and work with her was what tempted me to apply for the workshop. I was really pleased to be accepted, but reality soon sank in. I love contemporary music and had worked with many composers while at the Yale School of Music. I know how much work goes into a new composition between editing, revising, and rehearsing before the initial performance can even occur. How was I going to learn five new pieces in a week, with two still in the editing phase and a third that would be my first performance with electronics?
For more from Anna and this workshop, click "Playlist" on the player above for a series of documentary videos.
My first impression when I arrived was how open everyone was during their time at the workshop—to try new things, to accept constructive feedback, and to contribute what was necessary, whether time or energy, to achieve convincing performances of the works assigned to us. If this had been a workshop of all solo works, I think our experience would have been significantly different; the emphasis on chamber compositions led to a feeling of "we're all in this together," and alleviated some of the pressure that we were all experiencing. On the first day of the workshop, we were asked to sight-read the six new pieces composed for the workshop with our new colleagues and the workshop leaders. This was incredibly humbling. Kaija's comment to me at the end of a particularly challenging piece was a smiling "That was very brave." I just wanted a drink.
"We went to bed at night with our stomachs hurting from laughter."—Anna Pelczer
Premieres at Carnegie Hall are memorable, but it was my co-participants who made this workshop one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences of my musical life. Kaija and Anssi were incredibly supportive, sharing their experiences and knowledge, and putting into perspective our task within the workshop and our role in furthering the development of classical music. It was such a pleasure to be a part of a group where everyone was equally invested in the final goal. Giving up half of lunch time or rehearsing at 11 at night can be enjoyable when everyone is doing it together. Even with the stress and pressure, we went to bed at night with our stomachs hurting from laughter.
Photo by Ina Busch.