“Few jazz artists are as successful as Haarla in creating
a world, a scope of feeling, and making it their own.”
Ante Lucem, a powerful work for jazz quintet and symphony orchestra by Finnish pianist/harpist/composer Iro Haarla, was commissioned by the Norrlands Opera Symphony Orchestra and its leader Marco Feklistoff and premiered at the Umeå Jazz Festival in October 2012. It was recorded at the Concert Hall of NorrlandsOperan in Umeå, and the album is drawn both from the premiere concert and from sessions on the following days. Ante Lucem was subsequently mixed in Stockholm by Torbjörn Samuelsson, Manfred Eicher and Iro Haarla.
In a review of the Umeå Festival for All about Jazz, John Kelman pointed out that “what distinguished [Ante Lucem] from other symphonic collaborations was its remarkable integration. This was not a case of alternating passages for orchestra and quintet, though there were plenty of feature spots for Haarla’s group (…) Instead this suite, intended to reflect on that quiet time of day between moonset and sunrise, traversed a great range of imagery and emotion…Haarla’s writing moved from maelstrom-like turbulence to deeper melancholy and, ultimately, that gentle silence-approaching beauty which evokes so much promise at the start of each and every day. Whether it was more dramatic turns with the full orchestra or breakdowns into smaller subsets, it was an evocative and provocative performance.”
Ante Lucem is comprised, Iro Haarla explains in her liner notes, of “four separate yet closely linked pieces”: “Songbird Chapel, “ “Persevering with Winter”, “…and the Darkness has not overcome it…”, and “Ante Lucem – Before Dawn”. Each of these compositions, in different ways, reflects upon the “struggle between darkness and light” and “our earthy pilgrimage through sufferings, and overcoming difficulties.”
The opening “Songbird Chapel”, with stark harp and a mournful melody for saxophone and trumpet soon taken up by the strings, is dedicated to the memory of Haarla’s mother.
Much of the inspiration for Haarla’s music comes from nature, its relentlessness as well as its beauty. The title “Persevering With Winter” means what it says: “It’s an allegory for winter in the north…the long period of darkness, and clear frosty days…the northern winds which sweep mercilessly over the horizon.” In the closing title track “Ante Lucem - Before Dawn”, the scene shifts to the Garden of Gethsemane…