© Priska Ketterer
Kaija Saariaho is a prominent member of a group of Finnish composers and performers who are now, in mid-career, making a worldwide impact. She studied composition in Helsinki, Freiburg and Paris, where she has lived since 1982. Her studies and research at IRCAM have had a major influence on her music and her characteristically luxuriant and mysterious textures are often created by combining live music and electronics. Although much of her catalogue comprises chamber works, from the mid-nineties she has turned increasingly to larger forces and broader structures, such as the operas L’Amour de loin and Adriana Mater and the oratorio La Passion de Simone.
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|Key Works: |
(1987; string quartet, electronics)
- Du Cristal
(1989; orchestra, live electronics)
- Graal Théâtre
(1994; violin, orchestra)
- L’Amour de loin
- Orion (2002; orchestra)
- Quatre Instants (2002; soprano, orchestra)
- Adriana Mater (2005; opera)
- La Passion de Simone (2006; soprano, SATB, orchestra)
- Notes on Light (2006; cello, orchestra)
- Mirage (2007; cello, soprano, orchestra)
- Emilie (2008; opera)
- D'OM LE VRAI SENS (2010; clarinet, orchestra)
|Career Highlights: |
- 1976-81 studies composition with Paavo Heinen at the Sibelius Academy, Helsinki
- 1986 awarded Kranichsteiner Prize at Darmstadt
- 1989 awarded Ars Electronica Prize for Stilleben and Io; one year residency at the University of San Diego
- 1991 composition of ballet music Maa, premiered by Finnish National Ballet
- 2003 awarded the Grawemeyer Prize for L’Amour de loin
- 2006 premiere of Adriana Mater, Bastille Opera
- 2007 awarded Nemmers prize in music composition
- 2008 Composer-in-Residence, Mostly Mozart, Lincoln Center, New York
- 2009 awarded Wihuri Sibelius Prize
- 2011 awarded the prestigious Léonie Sonning Music Prize
Critical Acclaim: Simply unadorned and crystal-clear – Kaija Saariaho’s Love From Afar is modern opera at its most beautiful. — Liisamaija Hautsalo, Finnish Music Quarterly
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
Saariaho’s Lines are not only expressive and singable but immaculately clear. — Richard Morrison, The Times
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
Kaija Saariaho is a prominent member of a group of Finnish composers and performers who
are now, in mid-career, making a worldwide impact. Born in Helsinki in 1952, she studied at
the Sibelius Academy there with the pioneering modernist Paavo Heininen and, with Magnus
Lindberg and others, she founded the progressive ‘Ears Open’ group. She continued her
studies in Freiburg with Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber, at the Darmstadt summer
courses, and, from 1982, at the IRCAM research institute in Paris – the city which has been
most of the time her home ever since.
At IRCAM, Saariaho developed techniques of computer-assisted composition and acquired
fluency in working on tape and with live electronics. This experience influenced her approach
to writing for orchestra, with its emphasis on the shaping of dense masses of sound in slow
transformations. Significantly, her first orchestral piece, Verblendungen (1984), involves a
gradual exchange of roles and character between orchestra and tape. And even the titles of
her next, linked, pair of orchestral works, Du Cristal (1989) and …à la Fumée (1990) – the
latter with solo alto flute and cello, and both with live electronics – suggest their
preoccupation with colour and texture.
Before coming to work at IRCAM, Saariaho learned to know the French ‘spectralist’ composers, whose techniques are based on computer analysis of the sound-spectrum. This analytical approach inspired her to develop her own method for creating harmonic structures, as well as the detailed notation using harmonics, microtonaly and detailed continuum of sound extending from pure tone to unpitched noise – all features found in one of her most frequently performed works, Graal théâtre for violin and orchestra or ensemble (1994/97).
Later Saariaho has turned to opera, with outstanding success. L’Amour de loin, with a libretto by Amin Maalouf based on an early biography of the twelfth-century troubadour Jaufré Rudel, received widespread acclaim in its premiere production directed by Peter Sellars at the 2000 Salzburg Festival, and won the composer a prestigious Grawemeyer Award. Adriana
Mater, on an original libretto by Maalouf, mixing gritty present-day reality and dreams, followed, again directed by Sellars, at the Opéra Bastille in Paris in March 2006. Emilie, an opera and monodrama for Karita Mattila had its premiere in Lyon in March 2010.
Around the operas there have been other vocal works, notably the ravishing Château de l’âme (1996), Oltra mar (1999), and the song-cycle Quatre instants (2002). And the evening-long 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 experience of writing for voices has led to some clarification of Saariaho’s language, with a new vein of modally oriented melody accompanied by more regular repeating patterns. This change of direction has been carried over into orchestral works including Aile du songe for flute and chamber orchestra (2001) and the stunning Orion for large orchestra (2002) , Notes on
Light (2006) for ‘cellist Anssi Karttunen and the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Bergman inspired Laterna Magica (2008) for Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Most recently D’OM LE VRAI SENS, was written for the clarinettist Kari Kriikku.
In the profusion of large and small works which Saariaho has produced in recent years, two features which have marked her whole career continue to stand out. One is a close and productive association with individual artists – not least Amin Maalouf
and Peter Sellars, as well as the conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, the flautist Camilla Hoitenga, the ‘cellist Anssi Karttunen, the soprano Dawn Upshaw and, the pianists Emmanuel Ax and Tuija Hakkila . The other is a concern, shown equally in her choice of subject matter and texts and in the profusion of expression marks in her scores, to make her music not a working-out of abstract processes but an urgent communication from composer to listener of ideas, images and emotions.
Saariaho has claimed the major composing awards in The Grawemeyer Award, The Wihuri Prize, The Nemmers Prize and in 2011 was awarded The Sonning Prize. In 2015 she will be the judge of the Toru Takemitsu Composition Award.
The most recent orchestral work, Circle Map, has jointly been commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orcestra, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. The piece has been inspired by six poems of Rumi. These poems recited in Persian are used as the material for the electronic part. Circle Map was premiered by Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Susanna Mälkki at the Westergasfabriek Gashouder, Amsterdam on June 22 2012.
The music of Kaija Saariaho is published exclusively by Chester Music and Edition Wilhelm Hansen, part of the Music Sales Group of Companies.