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Kaija Saariaho

1952 - 2023

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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.

Biography taken from Wise Music Classical.
Photo: Maarit Kytöharju

D'om Le Vrai Sens | 2010 | 35 mins

Clarinet and Orchestra

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Duft | 2012 | 8 mins

Solo Clarinet

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Figura | 2016 | 14 mins

Clarinet, 2 Violins, Viola, Cello, Piano

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Oi Kuu | 1990 | 6 mins

Bass Clarinet or Bass Flute and Cello

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