Despite her fragile frame, Simone Weil was one of the towering figures of the 20th century. Born in 1909, the French philosopher, social activist and Christian mystic spent her short life working tirelessly to further her ideal of a world in which politics was spiritually driven, class systems abolished, and the physical and psychological needs of humanity could at last be fulfilled. Weil's lectures in philosophy were famous, and her passionate involvement in the causes of the oppressed even moreso. A victim of tuberculosis, she nonetheless joined the French Resistance during WWII and went on a hunger strike in solidarity with the deprived residents of German occupied France, which led to her death at age 34. And now, Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho has immortalized Weil's philosophy and vision in her rich, complex oratorio La Passion de Simone, which receives its West Coast premiere this week. Weil has been a lifelong influence on Saariaho; "I have been reading [her] writings since my youth," says the composer, "and the Finnish translation of her book Grfavity and Grace was one of the few things I packed into my suitcase when I traveled to Germany in 1981 to continue my studies in composition." La Passion de Simone, a collaboration between Saariaho, librettist Amin Maalouf and director Peter Sellars, is an attempt, says Saariaho, to express, through music, the "combination of Weil's severe asceticism and her passionate quest for truth." Written for solo soprano, choir, orchestra and electronics, the work consists of 15 "stations," in the tradition of the Passion Play, each of which explores different moments in Weil's life and interprets some of her ideas, while Weil's own texts are presented in the electronics surrounding the audience. Conducted by fellow Finn and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen and featuring the Los Angeles Master Chorale, dancer Michael Schumacher and that great soprano, Dawn Upshaw, Saariaho's own vision couldn't be in more capable hands.
Thu., Jan. 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 17, 8 p.m., 2009