Kaija Saariaho

1952 - 2023

Finnish

Summary

Kaija Saariaho was a prominent member of a group of Finnish composers and performers whose music is making a worldwide impact. She studied composition in Helsinki, Freiburg and Paris, where she lived from 1982. Her studies and research at IRCAM had a major influence on her music and her characteristically luxuriant and mysterious textures were often created by combining live music and electronics.

Although much of her catalogue comprises chamber works, from the mid-nineties she turned increasingly to larger forces and broader structures, such as the operas L’Amour de loin, Adriana Mater and Emilie. Around the operas there have been other vocal works, notably the ravishing Château de l’âme (1996), Oltra mar (1999), Quatre instants (2002), and True Fire (2014). The oratorio La Passion de Simone, portraying the life and death of the philosopher Simone Weil, formed part of Sellars’s international festival ‘New Crowned Hope’ in 2006/07. The chamber version of the oratorio was premiered by La Chambre aux echos at the Bratislava Melos Ethos Festival in 2013.

Saariaho claimed the major composing awards in The Grawemeyer Award, The Wihuri Prize, The Nemmers Prize,The Sonning Prize, The Polar Music Prize. In 2018 she was honoured with the BBVA Foundation’s Frontiers of Knowledge Award. In 2015 she was the judge of the Toru Takemitsu Composition Award. Always keen on strong educational programmes, Kaija Saariaho was the music mentor of the 2014-15 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative and was in residence at U.C. Berkeley Music Department in 2015.

Only The Sound Remains, her most recent opera collaboration with Peter Sellars, was premiered in Amsterdam in 2016. In the same year her first opera L'Amour de loin was presented in its New York premiere by the Metropolitan Opera in a new production by Robert Le Page. The Park Avenue Armory and New York Philharmonic presented a celebration of her orchestral music with visual accompaniment.

February 2017 saw Paris come alive with her work when she was featured composer of Radio France's Festival Présences.

Her last opera, Innocence, received its world premiere at Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in July 2021.

Critical Acclaim

It is rare when a new work sounds completely convincing and lucid at first hearing; thanks to Saraste and Karttunen, that was the case with Notes on Light. — The Boston Herald

Terra Memoria, a masterful new 15-minute string quartet by Finnish-born Kaija Saariaho. She is, quite simply, one of the most original compositional voices of our time. — Kyle MacMillan, Denver Post

Her elemental idea, which can be found in dozens of her scores, is an oceanic expanse of sound, one that shifts before one’s ears and quivers with hidden life. Saariaho’s work...moves between extremes of pure tone and noise, often finding a cryptic beauty in the middle zone. — Alex Ross, The New Yorker

The Composer of the Year 2021. Kaija Saariaho, who has long conjured otherworldly sounds with the spirit of an explorer returning to share her discoveries, reached new heights of mastery with two of 2021’s most memorable premieres: the opera Innocence and the symphonic Vista. — Joshua Barone, New York Times

 

Biography

Kaija Saariaho was a composer of great integrity and skill whose music reached a global audience. She studied composition in Helsinki, Freiburg and in Paris, where she lived from 1982. Her Finnish background and research at IRCAM were a major influence on her music and her characteristically luxuriant and mysterious textures were often created by combining live music and electronics.

With an impressive catalogue of chamber music, often written for friends and professional colleagues, from the mid-nineties she turned increasingly to larger forces and broader structures: the operas L’Amour de loin (2000) and Adriana Mater (2005) created with librettist Amin Maalouf and director Peter Sellars were both commissioned by Gerard Mortier for Salzburg Festival and Opera de Paris respectively; the monodrama Emilie (2008) for Karita Mattila and Lyon Opera directed by Francois Girard brought about a third collaboration with Maalouf; Only the Sound Remains (2015) explores Japanese Noh plays in translation by Ezra Pound, directed by Peter Sellars.

Her latest opera Innocence (2018) commissioned by friend and collaborator Pierre Audi and directed by Simon Stone for the Aix-en-Provence Festival was created in collaboration with librettist Solfi Oksanen and dramaturg and translator Aleksi Barrière. Innocence is partnered by Finnish National Opera, The Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Dutch National Opera and San Francisco Opera, and continues to be celebrated around the world. Study for Life (1980), her very first stage work was eventually premiered some 40 years after writing it by La Chambre aux échos at the Helsinki Festival in 2022.

Vocal music was always a focal point of her creative space and Saariaho composed several works in this vein for the concert hall such as the ravishing Château de l’âme (1996), Oltra mar for chorus and orchestra celebrating the Millennium with New York Philharmonic (1999), Quatre instants for Karita Mattila (2002), True Fire for Gerald Finley (2014); Leino Songs (2017) and Saarikoski Songs (2020) for Anu Komsi. Simone Weil, the French philosopher, mystic and political activist, inspired the oratorio La Passion de Simone (2006/07).

Saariaho’s catalogue includes many concerti; L’aile du songe (2001) and Notes on Light (2006) for lifelong friends – the flautist Camilla Hoitenga and cellist Anssi Karttunen; D'OM LE VRAI SENS (2010) for clarinettist Kari Krikku; Maan varjot (2013) for organist Olivier Latry; Trans (2015) for harpist Xavier de Maistre; and her last work HUSH (2023) for Finnish jazz trumpet legend Verneri Pohjola.

A master of orchestration and structure Saariaho’s orchestral catalogue provides rich and rewarding music. From the early Du cristal (1989) and Verblendungen (1994) via Orion (2002) and Circle Map (2012) to the most recent work Vista (2019) Saariaho's music delights and challenges the ear with sparkling textures and often inventive use of sound design and electronics. Her music is championed by conductors the word over among them Susanna Mälkki, Sakari Oramo, Esa-Pekka Salonen, John Storgårds, Dalia Stasevska, Ernest Izquierdo-Martinez, and recently her daughter Aliisa Neige Barrière.

The music of Kaija Saariaho is published exclusively by Chester Music and Edition Wilhelm Hansen, part of Wise Music Group.

The archive of Kaija Saariaho’s work/music is housed at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel, Switzerland. Please turn to them with research requests: https://www.paul-sacher-stiftung.ch/en/home.html. 
Click here to read a personal account about the flute music of Kaija Saariaho written by celebrated flutist Camilla Hoitenga

Kaija Saariaho on WQXR's Meet the Composer

News

Performances

26th February 2024

PERFORMERS
Bremer Philharmoniker
CONDUCTOR
Marko Letonja
LOCATION
Die Glocke, Bremen, Germany

27th February 2024

PERFORMERS
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
CONDUCTOR
Hannu Lintu
LOCATION
Symphony Center, Chicago, IL, United States of America

27th February 2024

PERFORMERS
Bremer Philharmoniker
CONDUCTOR
Marko Letonja
LOCATION
Die Glocke, Bremen, Germany

6th March 2024

PERFORMERS
Mannes Orchestra
LOCATION
Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY, United States of America

8th March 2024

PERFORMERS
Hard Rain Ensemble
LOCATION
Sonic Lab, Queen's University, Belfast, United Kingdom

Features

  • Kaija Saariaho: Archive
    • Kaija Saariaho: Archive
    • Explore the life and work of the late composer Kaija Saariaho, whose prolific five-decade career brought rich and rewarding music to a global audience. From orchestral, chamber and choral repertoire through to her operas, Saariaho truly was a master of the musical form.
  • Explore music by women for dance
    • Explore music by women for dance
    • In response to requests from choreographers, dance and ballet companies we invite you to explore music in multiple styles and genres by women at the height of their composing game. From Missy Mazzoli, Maja Ratkje and Helen Grime, to Joan Tower, Kaija Saariaho, Gloria Coates and the new generation Hania Rani and Lisa Morgenstern, we are sure there’s something for everyone in this first in a series of specially curated features.
  • Operas by Kaija Saariaho
    • Operas by Kaija Saariaho
    • Innocence — a vast drama for soloists, choir and orchestra— is a contemporary tragedy made radiant through its powerful music and the intermingling of words from different languages. One of six operas by Kaija Saariaho to explore.
  • The Best Recordings of 2023 from Wise Music Classical
  • New Opera Highlights from Wise Music Classical
    • New Opera Highlights from Wise Music Classical
    • Wise Music Classical invites you to explore new highlights from our opera catalogue. In these recent and upcoming premieres, new productions, and premiere recordings, our composers and their creative collaborators explore subjects ranging from the historical (Hadrian, X: The Life and Times of Malcom X, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) to the futuristic (Oryx and Crake), the fantastic (El Ultimo Sueño de Frida y Diego, Florencia en el Amazonas, Die Kinder des Sultans) to the thoroughly contemporary (Grounded, Blue, Innocence, The Shell Trial). Threaded throughout these works are perennial themes of loss, longing, magic, art-making, and community.

Photos

Discography