There is a visual impression or a series of them behind many of Saariaho’s works. “Six Japanese Gardens is a collection of impressions of the gardens I saw in Kyoto during my stay in Japan in the summer of 1993 and my reflections on rhythm at that time,” Saariaho tells. The six pieces of the cycle are named after the gardens.
1. Tenju-an Garden of Nanzen-ji Temple. In the very simple first piece the main instruments are introduced. They are, in the order of appearance: triangle, crotales, suspended cymbal, wood block, tambourine, log drum, 2 gongs, and timpani. Thus, there are both wooden and metallic sounds. Only two of the instruments, crotales and timpani, can produce different pitches. The prerecorded electronic part consists of filtered voice of crickets, and is triggered by the percussionist with a pedal from a Macintosh computer at the beginning of the piece. The dynamics fluctuate between pp and f. The performance instruction at the beginning of the piece reads “Molto calmo,” and the rhythm should be kept “very even” all through.
2. Many Pleasures (Garden of the Kinkaku-ji). The second piece, to be performed “Intenso, dolce,” is twice as fast and rhythmically more complex than the previous one. The instrumentation consists of 3 suspended finger cymbals, a metal plate, and timpani, and the overall sound is light and airy. The electronics part consists of prerecorded finger cymbals and filtered singing, and it has to be triggered at seven different instances.
3. Dry Mountain Stream keeps the vivid tempo of the previous piece and should be played “Sempre energico.” There are three staves for percussion instruments. The uppermost stave is reserved for instruments from three different families (wood, skin, stone). The choice of the instruments is free, as long as they don’t have a clearly defined pitch. The two other staves are for tamtam/gong and timpani, and the electronics part consists of prerecorded sounds of percussion instruments, constantly changing.
4. Rock Garden of Ryojan-ji (“Misterioso, sempre poco rubato”) is a slow piece and the largest of the cycle, when it comes to duration. Its scale of expression varies between “calmo”, “espressivo”, and “poco furioso,” and there is something ritualistic to it, not least because of the low filtered singing heard in the background all the way through. The metallic percussion sounds are produced by small cymbals, gongs, zen cymbals, and tamtam.
5. Moss Garden of the Saiho-ji (“Espressivo”) is a limpid study of polyrhythm and the only piece of the cycle without an electronic part. Here, as in the third piece, the percussionist may freely choose some of the instruments, as long as they belong to the three different families of wood, skin and stone. The three other instruments are crotales, triangle, and tambourine.
6. Stone Bridges (”Furioso”) is the most uneasy piece of the whole cycle due to its constantly changing meter and rhythmic divisions by 12, 9, 6 and 3. The electronic part consists of tutti tremolo sounds. Towards the end, the piece slowly fades al niente.
Published in LAPHIL PRESENTS, October 2007, p. 34