Orchestration: 3 flutes (each= piccolo), 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets (3rd in E-flat), bass clarinet, 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, large cymbal, percussion (bass drum, bell, chimes [glass, metal, wood], crotales, frame drum, glockenspiel, guiro, marimba, sizzle cymbal, snare drum, suspended cymbal, tam-tam, tom-toms, triangle, vibraphone, whip, wood block, and xylophone), and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: October 29, 2021, Susanna Malkki conducting
About this Piece
In January 2019, I attended the U.S. premiere performances of my harp concerto Trans with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, played by Xavier de Maistre and conducted by Susanna Malkki.
I had completed my latest opera, Innocence, before Christmas, just a month earlier, and was letting my mind get fixed on the ideas that were rousing into my consciousness, planning to get into work after having returned home to Paris. My next piece was to be an orchestra piece for Susanna.
When driving after the last concert from Los Angeles to San Diego for a few days, I was filled with joy after beautiful performances and enjoying the scenery on my right during the ride. We stopped every now and then to admire the view, and later I realized that most places were called vistas.
As I literally also felt that new music was flowing into my mind and opening new kinds of ideas for the piece, I started calling it simply Vista. The score has two movements: “Horizons” and “Targets.” The excitement of writing for a full orchestra without soloists—after the many years I had used them for opera composition—was inspiring and obvious when hearing the piece.
Nevertheless, I also wanted to challenge myself and deliberately left out some of my signature instruments in orchestral context, namely harp, piano, and celesta. I also chose varied colors for the triple woodwind section and wanted to give them a larger place than usual.
These simple decisions made the composition process challenging, as they forced me to find new ways of expressing myself with orchestra. But after patient digging, I found a fresh sonority that is more clearly defined without the unifying resonances of harp and piano, and the individual wind instrument lines and textures are prominent.
The two movements are using the same musical material but are contrasting in their character. Whereas “Horizons” is based on lines and abstract textures, “Targets” is more tense and dramatic, with much physical energy. The formal construction of the piece is based on the different ways of varying the—as such quite reduced—musical material. There are recognizable gestures that go through disparate transformations and, especially in “Targets,” search restlessly for new combinations; the several energetic attempts to break out are finally resolved into a slow coda section, during which the music returns to the calm confidence of the opening measures. —Kaija Saariaho