Kaija Saariaho awarded “Academician of Arts” by the President of Finland

Kaija Saariaho awarded “Academician of Arts” by the President of Finland
Aliisa Neige Barrière and Kaija Saariaho
© Maarit Kytöharju

On March 23, 2023 the President of the Republic of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, awarded the prestigious title of Academician of Arts to composer Kaija Saariaho.

According to the Finnish Ministry of Culture and Education: “On proposal of the Arts Council, the President of the Republic grants the title of academician to a distinguished artist. The title is lifelong and does not entail a salary. There may be 11 Academicians of Arts at any one time.”

For health reasons, Kaija could not herself attend the ceremony, but her daughter, the conductor Aliisa Neige Barrière, represented her and read Kaija’s acceptance speech below:


"Dear Mr. President,
Dear Minister of Culture Petri Honkonen,
Dear colleagues and academicians.
It is a great honor to receive this distinction, which is now for the first time since the discontinuation of the Finnish Academy [in 1970] being bestowed upon a composer. For that reason, I understand it as honoring in a special way my field of work and my profession, and find it fitting, in a situation where my health unfortunately doesn’t allow for me to join you, that I am being represented by Aliisa, who is not only my daughter but also a musician of the younger generation.
When I look at our world, ruled as it is by market economy, it is sometimes difficult not to wonder how many new generations of composers will come after me. Finland is a country that has made music the core of its identity, and has risen to international fame precisely thanks to its music. I have myself received a lot of support from the Finnish government: through my education, and later through grants spanning several years – for that I am thankful, and I can only wish the same to my younger colleagues. But I am afraid the golden age I experienced is ending now. In present-day Finland, cultural policies are considered a negligible footnote, that is being managed without the guidance of bigger ideas and abandoned to market forces, if not to the far-right. The belief that people who do what I do are actually doing something important, that its value cannot be measured in power, fame or money, doesn’t seem to belong to conventional political wisdom anymore. That is why this honorary title is an important and rare gesture of recognition.
But to avoid me being Finland’s last composer-academician, many things must change in this country. Everyone has to be given an early possibility to try their hand at art and experience it in its many forms. Everyone has to feel they are welcome to partake in these experiences, and that they have a possibility of making it their profession if they so wish. It is important to teach that not everything’s value can be counted in euros, that not everything’s significance becomes clear in a second or even in a year: this is true of feelings, of forests, and of music. In a world where everyone can easily end up living in their own bubble, entire generations are in danger of closing up, unless we persist, through artistic education and artistic experiences, in ceaselessly opening doors. The same doors through which I myself, as a girl from a small Finnish family, got to access a much broader world, and a position for which I had no role-model as a woman.
My young colleagues, I dedicate this honorary title to you and share it with you. It starts a chain of transmission through which I will remain among you always.
Kaija Saariaho"

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