Esa-Pekka Salonen

Kaija Saariaho

Works for Solo Cello

Wilhemina Smith, cello

Finnish contemporary


Sleeve notes in English


March 2019

Catalogue No.:
ODE 1294-2


Track listing

CD 59:02
Esa-Pekka Salonen
1 YTA III (1986) 7:46
knock, breath, shine (2010) 15:00
2 3 I. knock 2:58
3 II. breathe 5:38
4 III. shine 6:24
5 Sarabande per un coyote (2010) 3:04
Giuseppe Colombi (1635-1694)
6 Chiocona 2:46
Kaija Saariaho (1952-2023)
7 Dreaming Chaconne (2010) 3:22
8 Petals (1988) 8:46
Sept papillons, for solo cello (2000) 12:15
9 9 Papillon I: Dolce, leggiero, libero 1:51
10 10 Papillon II: Leggiero, molto espressivo 1:28
11 11 Papillon III: Calmo, con tristezza 1:44
12 12 Papillon IV: Dolce, tranquillo 2:48
13 13 Papillon V: Lento, misterioso 1:33
14 14 Papillon VI: Sempre poco nervoso, senza tempo 1:45
15 15 Papillon VII: Molto espressivo, energico 1:05
16 Spins and Spells for cello solo (1997) 6:03

Complete description

This solo album by cellist Wilhelmina Smith features works for solo cello by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kaija Saariaho.  Both composers belong to a generation of modernist Finnish composers whose work has gained broad acceptance in musical culture throughout the world. While each composer has a clear individual artistic persona, as a group they are known for pushing sonic boundaries. In writing for strings and, in particular on this recording, the cello, Salonen and Saariaho exploit the outer reaches of the technical possibilities for both the instrument and the performer.


Esa-Pekka Salonen is known throughout the world as one of the pre-eminent conductors of our time. Salonen as a composer writes music that avails itself of the duality of a performer’s virtuosity. In Salonen’s own words: “I happen to like the concept of a virtuoso operating at the very limits of what is physically (and sometimes mentally) possible. In Nietzsche’s words, ‘You have made danger your vocation; there is nothing contemptible in that.’” Like the caprices of Paganini and the suites and partitas of Bach, these are demanding works for soloists, except that Salonen unites the flashy virtuosity of the one within the spiritual depth of the other. The earliest work for solo cello in this album was written during the 1980s (YTA III), at an early stage of the composer’s career, but the two other works were written by Salonen more recently, in 2010.


Kaija Saariaho’s works for solo cello cover all four decades from the 1980s to 2010s. According to the composer, Petals was written abruptly in a few days, but after a long unconscious preparation, while Sept papillons was written during the rehearsals of Saariaho’s masterpiece work, the opera L’Amour de loin, in 2000. The contrast in scale between this complex large-scale opera and these seven miniatures for a soloist is matched by the thematic idea as the composer turns to the lighter-than-air fragility of butterflies. What the two works have in common is the fleeting nature of time and the tragic beauty and impermenence of all life. Spins and Spells (1997) presents itself with greater outward virtuosity pushing to the surface many of the sonic disturbances that are characterized by Saariaho’s style of composing. According to Saariaho, “the sonority of Spins and Spells reminds me of the music and the instrumental colours of another age, far older than those of the cello that we know, although seen and transformed again through my own universe”. The album also includes both composers’ variations to a theme by 17th century composer Giuseppe Colombi, originally commissioned by cellist Anssi Karttunen.


Wilhelmina Smith is an artist of intense commitment, poetic insight and dazzling versatility. As a soloist and recitalist as well as a collaborative musician and festival director, Smith has consistently advocated for composers with whom she has developed vital relationships, to have their music creatively positioned within an intellectually engaging context and performed with the utmost passion and technical assurance. She made her solo debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra while a student at the Curtis Institute of Music and in 1997 was a prizewinner in the Leonard Rose International Cello Competition. Smith was awarded a 2015–2016 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Performing Musicians. She has been a guest artist with the Philadelphia and Boston Chamber Music Societies, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and is a founding member of Music from Copland House. She has performed regularly in festivals such as the Marlboro Music Festival and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. In 2005, she formed the Variation String Trio with violinist Jennifer Koh and violist Hsin-Yun Huang, a group that has performed across the US and Europe, and in 2012 formed a piano trio with pianist Lydia Artymiw and violinist Erin Keefe. Smith is also the founder and Artistic Director of Salt Bay Chamberfest; a festival that has been home to performers and composers of international renown for over two decades.