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Inside the Music

The Nearest Clarinetist May Be Behind You

A black and white portrait of Kari Kriikku holding his clarinet.
Kari Kriikku | Photo by Marco Borggreve

In a typical concert at Orchestra Hall, a soloist will emerge from the auditorium’s right wing, bow before the audience and take their place center stage. But when Kari Kriikku makes his debut with the Minnesota Orchestra, he may be hard to find. 

The Finnish clarinetist has been wandering—quite literally—the world’s great concert halls for decades. In his March 3 and 4 appearances at Orchestra Hall, Kriikku will perform Kaija Saariaho’s clarinet concerto D’OM LE VRAI SENS. Written specifically for Kriikku, Saariaho’s 2010 composition was inspired by The Lady and the Unicorn, six medieval French tapestries that depict humans’ five senses and a mysterious sixth sense—often interpreted as emotion or love. 

Aptly titled L’Ouïe (or, “hearing”), the concerto’s first movement features, in Saariaho’s own words, “the calmly breathing orchestra...interrupted by a call from the clarinet.” Where that call arises from may be hard to pin down, as Kriikku will begin the performance offstage. In fact, he will play each of the work's six movements from a different position in the concert hall. 

Footage from Kriikku’s 2010 performance of "D’OM LE VRAI SENS" with L'Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

Remembering their earlier conversations during composition process, Kriikku recalls Saariaho saying to him, “Don’t sound like a normal clarinet player.” Known for his inventive interpretations of contemporary works, Kriikku readily embraced her instruction: “This sentence instigated so many new ideas and inspirations and this was the catalyst to combining both sound and the movement together. Today, I couldn’t play the piece without including movement.” And move he does, playing low to the ground in certain moments before quickly rising and fluttering like a bird in others as he traverses the space. 

An excerpt shared by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in anticipation of Kriikku’s 2020 performance of the piece.

Though his constant swings and dynamic maneuvers may at first appear extravagant, they are essential to animating Saariaho’s multi-sensory composition. Speaking to this point, Kriikku says, “[Movement] enables the work to be easily followed and accessible for the listener to interpret.” The composition, it could be said, comes alive as he weaves through the concert hall—something to be not only heard and seen, but touched and maybe even smelled. 

Just where in Orchestra Hall’s auditorium will Kriikku pop up? That question will be determined once he arrives to Minneapolis and becomes acquainted with the Hall’s dimensions, with decisions made in careful consultation with the Orchestra’s stage crew. In short, you will have to find him yourself.