Into the blue – into the unknown. The new dimension of contemporary classical music. Making sense of sounds and series of sounds. Sound shapes, sound spaces, sound surfaces. A curve – Rebecca Saunders’s composition for chamber orchestra “Into the Blue” makes me think of curves. Space is curved, and the beginning of this 13-minute-piece sounds like solitary voices in outer space, foolish, alluring – come to me, play with me. If we take this music back to earth, the setting could be a jungle with exotic birds, flirting, singing, piping, trilling.
The British composer, born in London in 1967 and currently living in Berlin, wrote this piece in 1996 for clarinet, bassoon, cello, double bass, piano and percussion. At the time she was still a PhD student at the University of Edinburg and had already absorbed the teaching and the influence of the German composer Wolfgang Rihm at the Hochschule für Musik in Karlsruhe. The magazine “Gramophone” qualifies her composition as “music of great integrity and purpose […] Saunders is particularly deft at combining disparate, single [musical] events into larger, affective shapes”.
Tom Service, writing for the “Guardian” says “that in Saunders’ case, you really are dealing with sound – and the way sounds are made by voices, by instruments, or by music-boxes and record players – as mouldable, physical stuff. Few composers make you more aware of the intricacy, delicacy, and elementality of the musical process, of what happens when a musician’s body and fingers catalyse their instruments, than Saunders does.”
By Saunders’ own understanding of music, which I have illustrated in an earlier post, “Into the Blue” has no specific theme, at least none specifically defined by the composer. If you listen to this piece, as it has been recorded by musikFabrik and Stefan Asbury for the label Kairos, the message will be your own reflection and emotions, triggered by the sound. If the first half of he composition may seem dissonant and confusing, the second part, introduced by a pause – the absence of sound – and an intro by the bassoon, is calm, deep and yet of great clarity, translucent and comforting towards the end.
The German ensemble musikFabrik, founded in 1990, has already a certain tradition to works with Saunders; it is one of the leading chamber music ensemble in the field of contemporary classical music. It is “particularly dedicated to artistic innovation. New, unknown, and often personally commissioned works in unusual media are typical of their productions”, the ensemble says on its homepage. “Into the Blue” was commissioned by the MInistry for Sciences and Arts of the German state of Baden-Württemberg and first performed on June 23, 1996.
© Charles Thibo