Kaija Saariaho


Kaija Saariaho became known to a wider audience no later than 2000, when her debut opera [L’Amour de loin] premiered at the Salzburg Festival in a production by Peter Sellars. The subsequently very successful composer not only made a name for herself with her music, but also by donating one million euros for the organ of the new concert hall in Helsinki. In 2005, she was commissioned by the Berliner Philharmoniker to compose the ethereal orchestral piece [Asteroid 4179: Toutatis], followed by [Laterna Magica] (2008) and [Vista] (2019).

Kaija Saariaho was born in Helsinki in 1952. Her personal wealth came from her father Launo Laakkonen, a leading manufacturer of protective bunker technology. She began her studies as a composer at the Sibelius Academy in the class of Paavo Heininens. She then took part in the summer courses for new music in Darmstadt, and continued her studies under Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber in Freiburg. Saariaho had previously taken part in computer music courses at IRCAM in Paris, where she experimented with the mixing of electronic and acoustic sounds. The computer became a fundamental element of her compositional technique. In 1982, the composer, who was also the artistic director of the Helsinki biennial for contemporary music, moved to Paris, where she wrote many of her more than one hundred works for a wide variety of ensembles. Her musical language is characterised by the most sophisticated tonal colours and dreamlike, floating atmospheric images. In 2008, [Musical America] magazine honoured her as “Composer of the Year”, which the jury attributed in part to her great popularity with audiences and the press. Her stage works have repeatedly caused a sensation – in addition to L’Amour de loin, they include [Adriana Mater] and [La Passion de Simone] as well as [Émilie], [Only The Sound Remains] and [Innocence]. Kaija Saariaho died in 2023 at the age of 70 after a serious illness.

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