To depict the sea, Greek-Dutch composer Calliope Tsoupaki will evoke the same forces that Debussy did with his La mer, but adding recorder and panflute to the orchestra. This commission Tsoupaki has got from famous concert sereis ZaterdagMatinee. ‘Salto di Saffo’ will get its world premiere on October 6th by the Radio Philharmonics Orchestra under Markus Stenz with as soloists Erik Bosgraaf, recorder, and Matthijs Koene, panpipe…
“I identify with the sea”, Calliope Tsoupaki said in the Trouw newspaper last summer. In the same interview, the Greek-Dutch composer tells journalist Frederike Berntsen that her first memories of the sea go back to her baby years. Tsoupaki saw the light of day in Piraeus, the port of Athens. The former composition student of Louis Andriessen has lived in the Netherlands for thirty years, but both her oeuvre and her personal life are dominated by her Greek identity. Just like in her extensive oratorio Oidípous (2014) she takes a story from Greek antiquity as her starting point in her brand-new composition Salto di Saffo. This time it is poet Sappho, who according to a legend in the Ionian Sea would have deposited on the southern tip of the island of Lefkas. Her ill-fated leap (‘salto’ in Italian) from a rock would be motivated by heartbreak: her love for the young ferryman Phaon was not answered.
Calliope Tsoupaki has an autobiographical link with the rock in question at Cape Lefkatas: “As a young person in my twenties, I sailed along on the ship that brought me to the Netherlands for the first time. As a young composer, I wanted to show my work to Louis Andriessen, in the hope of being able to study with him. It was at night. Everything was dark, I only saw the lighthouse. I liked to mirror Sappho, I thought of everything I left behind and had to cry hard. Salto di Saffo is in this respect one of my musical self-portraits, just like Sappho’s Tears- then already – from 1990 and Medea from 1996. Incidentally, the title Salto di Saffo in does not refer to the jump itself, but to the place where it happened. The name sounds much better in Italian than in Greek. Moreover, Italy is on the other side of the Ionian Sea. ”
Salto di Saffo, a commission from the ZaterdagMatinee, is a double concerto for alto recorder and panpipe. That this last instrument, at least in its European version, dates from ancient Greece, is nicely included. It is the second time in a short time that Tsoupaki has put two wind instruments into dialogue with an orchestra. At the recent Holland Festival, the Syrian clarinettist Kinan Azmeh and jazz trumpet player Eric Vloeimans held the partly improvisational Tragouditen baptism, together with the Metropole Orkest. Sounded Tragoud mainly melancholic and introverted, in Salto di Saffo contrasts and fighting spirit are prominently present. The composition is based on antiphony, a principle of question and answer. Motifs travel from orchestra to soloists and back, or alternately sound with the alto recorder and panpipes. The soloists occasionally use micro-intervals to express the tone expressively.
Most musical lines are made up of long notes, in the spirit of the cantus firmus of the Middle Ages and of Byzantine church music, which is a permanent source of inspiration for Tsoupaki. In addition to these long melodies, there are also fast note waves in the orchestra, which the composer calls ‘harmonic clouds’. For her, Salto di Saffo in is technically a daring piece: “I did a long time for my doing, because I was looking for a new method to color the melody with other sounds. If all goes well, as a listener you experience contrasts between the different layers, but at the same time, you feel that everything is made of the same material. With a visual metaphor, you can say that one eye looks at slow-moving film images, while your other eye sees that the time is fast, forward and backward. Maybe a bit schizophrenic, but I think that fits in with the evocative power of the subject. ”
More info about the concert
Tsoupaki’s page at Donemus
Salto di Saffo at the Donemus webshop