In 2006, Kaija Saariaho takes a French topic with a universal appeal on again, on a booklet by Amin Maalouf. La Passion de Simone, an oratorio for solo soprano, choir, orchestra and electronics, which caption is : « A musical path in fifteen stations», received its premiere in Vienna, on the 26th of November 2006 with a staging by Peter Sellars, and Susanna Malkki was the conductor. That day Simone Weil was sung by Pia Freund, Dominique Blanc was the narrator, Michael Schumacher being the mute dancer, and Arnold Schoenberg’s choir was at its best. The rather cool reception on the audience’s side was mostly attributed to Sellars’ staging.
The present recording released by Ondine allows us to make a better judgement on the music itself thanks to the unsurpassable performance by Dawn Upshaw (originally scheduled in this role) and also to Esa-Pekka Salonen’s elaborate and brilliant direction at the head of the excellent Finish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The oratorio is inspired by Simone Weil’s life (1909-1943), a French philosopher of German origins, deeply affected by a genuine Christian mysticism and a sincere search for social justice. Her personal and intellectual, brave and non- negotiable position did not flinch, marking indelibly her path… her own Stations of the Cross towards a fatal exhaustion.
As in her previous work, Kaija Saariaho commits herself to her topic and succeeds once again in getting her music to move through an efficient spacialisation, an almost silk-screen colouration and a unifying acoustic continuum. Music is performed by wonderful performers. In issue 11 of the magazine Tempus Perfectum which was featuring him, Osmo Pekonen specifies : « La Passion de Simone pertains to her heroine’s resurrection by means of Art. And more than following the tradition of the Bach Passions, or Telemann, Haendel, Penderecki or Pärt, Kaija Saariaho’s oratorio seems to conceal a mystery, both in its sense as its shape, similar in that way to Parsifal, Richard Wagner’s Bühnenweihfestr or to Messiaen’s Saint-François d’Assise, and proposes us a new milestone in the reinvention of lyrical art at the dawn of the twenty-first century ».