Kaija Saariaho

Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho was born Kaija Anneli Laakkonen in Helsinki on 14 October 1952. She studied at the Sibelius Academy with Paavo Heininen. With Magnus Lindberg and others she founded the progressive 'Ears Open' group. She studied with Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber at the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg and attended Darmstadt summer courses. She became familiar with the work of the French 'spectralist' composers, inspiring her to create her own methods of notation and composition. From 1982 she studied computer-assisted composition and worked with tape and live electronics at IRCAM in Paris, which then became her home for most of the rest of her life.

Kaija Saariaho (1952-2023)
Kaija Saariaho (1952-2023)
Photo © Priska Ketterer


Later she turned to opera:  L'Amour de loin, to a libretto by Amin Maalouf, is based on the biography of Jaufré Rudel, the twelfth century troubadour, and its first production at the 2000 Salzburg Festival, directed by Peter Sellars, was well received and won her a Grawemayer Award.  (Later, in 2016, New York Metropolitan Opera performed L'Amour de loin and transmitted it to cinemas via the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series.) Further operas followed - Adriana Mater - to an original libretto by Maalouf - was produced at the Opéra Bastille in Paris in 2006, also directed by Sellars; Emilie, for Karita Mattila, was first performed in Lyon in 2010; Only the Sound Remains was first performed in 2016 by Dutch National Opera, and Innocence was first performed in 2021 at the Aix-en-Provence Festival.

During her career, Saariaho was commissioned by the BBC, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Dutch National Opera, Finnish National Opera, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, IRCAM, the Lincoln Center, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Salzburg Festival, San Francisco Opera, Stavanger Symphony Orchestra and Théâtre du Châtelet, and she received a series of awards and prizes. She was known for working closely with other artists, such as Emmanuel Ax, Anssi Karttunen, Amin Maalouf, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Peter Sellars and Dawn Upshaw, and also for producing music which communicated emotions, ideas and images urgently to her listeners.

In 2021 Kaija Saariaho was diagnosed with glioblastoma, and she died in Paris, as a result of this brain tumour, on 2 June 2023, aged seventy.

Further information: saariaho.org


A selection of articles about Kaija Saariaho

CD Spotlight. Saariaho's Last Gift - John Dante Prevedini is impressed by BIS Records' tribute to the Finnish composer

Classical music news - June 2023 Obituaries - Our summary of those the classical music world has lost this month

Echoes of Oblivion by Robert McCarney - Turn that racket down!

Aix and Pains - Giuseppe Pennisi previews the 2021 edition of the Aix-en-Provence Festival

Ensemble. Lines of Blue Light - Kaija Saariaho's opera 'L'amour de loin', live in HD from New York Metropolitan Opera, impresses Maria Nockin

Ensemble. Woman for all Seasons - Gerald Fenech returns to Festival Maribor in Slovenia

CD Spotlight. Interpretative Compass - Jennifer Koh plays Bach and more, heard by Howard Smith. '... divine, finely-spun tone ...'

Ensemble. Most Memorable - A recital by Soojin Han and Tadashi Imai impresses Mike Wheeler

Ensemble. Lightness and Transparency - New World Symphony, the American orchestral academy, ends its season with an all-Tchaikovsky programme, reported by Lawrence Budmen

Record Box. Rhapsodic Cello - Music by Bruce Cale, reviewed by Malcolm Tattersall