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Kaija Saariaho

Kaija Anneli Saariaho (Finnish: [ˈkɑi̯jɑ ˈsɑːriɑho]; née Laakkonen, born 14

Kaija Saariaho
October 1952) is a Finnish composer based in Paris, France.

Saariaho studied composition in Helsinki, Freiburg and Paris, where she has lived
since 1982. Her research at the Institute for Research and Coordination Acoustic
(IRCAM) marked a turning point in her music away from strict serialism towards
spectralism. Her characteristically rich, polyphonic textures are often created by
combining live music and electronics.

During the course of her career, Saariaho has received commissions from the
Lincoln Center for the Kronos Quartet and from IRCAM for the Ensemble
Intercontemporain, the BBC, the New York Philharmonic, the Salzburg Music
Festival, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and the Finnish National Opera, among
others.[1] Paris, 2013
Born Kaija Laakkonen
14 October 1952
Era Contemporary
Life and work
Spouse(s) Jean-Baptiste Barrière
Awards and honours
Selected works
Selected recordings
External links

Life and work

Saariaho was born in Helsinki, Finland. She studied at the Sibelius Academy under Paavo Heininen. After attending the Darmstadt
Summer Courses, she moved to Germany to study at the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg under Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber.
She found her teachers’ emphasis onstrict serialism and mathematical structures stifling, saying in an interview:

You were not allowed to have pulse, or tonally oriented harmonies, or melodies. I don't want to write music through
negations. Everything is permissible as long as it's done in good taste.

In 1980, Saariaho went to the Darmstadt Summer Courses and attended a concert of the French
spectralists Tristan Murail and Gerard
Grisey.[3] Hearing spectral music for the first time marked a profound shift in Saariaho's artistic direction. These experiences guided
her decision to attend courses incomputer music that were being given by IRCAM, the computer music research institute in Paris, by
David Wessel, Jean-Baptiste Barrière and Marc Battier

In 1982, she began work at IRCAM researching computer analyses of the sound-spectrum of individual notes produced by different
instruments. She developed techniques for computer-assisted composition, experimented with musique concrète, and wrote her first
pieces combining live performance with electronics. She also composed new works using IRCAM's CHANT synthesiser.[4] Each of
her Jardin Secret trilogy was created with the use of computer programs. Jardin secret I (1985), Jardin secret II (1986) and Nymphea
(Jardin secret III) (1987).[5] Her works with electronics were developed in collaboration with Jean-Baptiste Barrière, a composer,
multimedia artist and computer scientist who directed the IRCAM's department of musical research from 1984 to 1987. Saariaho and
Barrière married in 1982. They have two children.[6]

In Paris, Saariaho developed an emphasis on slow transformations of dense masses of sound.[7] Her first tape piece, Vers Le Blanc
from 1982, and her orchestral and tape work, Verblendungen, are both constructed from a single transition: in Vers Le Blanc the
transition is from one pitch cluster to another, while in Verblendungen, it is from loud to quiet. Verblendungen also uses a pair of
visual ideas as its basis: a brush stroke which starts as a dense mark on the page and thins out into individual strands, and the word
"verblendungen" itself, which means "dazzlements".

Her work in the 1980s and 1990s was marked by an emphasis on timbre and the use of electronics alongside traditional instruments.
Nymphéa (Jardin secret III) (1987), for example, is for string quartet and live electronics and contains an additional vocal element:
the musicians whisper the words of an Arseny Tarkovsky poem, Now Summer is Gone. In writing Nymphea, Saariaho used a fractal
generator to create material. Writing about the compositional process, Saariaho said:

In preparing the musical material of the piece, I have used the computer in several ways. The basis of the entire
harmonic structure is provided by complex cello sounds that I have analysed with the computer. The basic material
for the rhythmic and melodic transformations are computer-calculated in which the musical motifs gradually convert,
recurring again and again.[9]

Saariaho has often talked about having a kind ofsynaesthesia, one that involves all of the senses, saying:

... the visual and the musical world are one to me... Different senses, shades of colour, or textures and tones of light,
even fragrances and sounds blend in my mind. They form a complete world in itself.

Another example is Six Japanese Gardens (1994), a percussion piece accompanied by a prerecorded electronic layer of the Japanese
nature, traditional instruments, and chanting of Buddhist monks. During her visit to Tokyo in 1993, she expanded her original
percussion conception into a semi-indeterminate piece. It consists of six movements that each represent a garden composed of
traditional Japanese architecture, by which she was inspired rhythmically. Especially in movement IV and V, she explored many
possibilities of complexpolyrhythm in liberated instrumentation. She said:

... I felt a connection between architecture and music: both art forms select and introduce materials, let them grow,
ferent relations between the materials.[11]
give them form, prepare new contrasting elements, create dif

In her book on Saariaho, musicologist Pirkko Moisala writes about the indeterminate nature of this composition:

[Kaija said:] 'There are so many kinds of percussion instruments which I do not know. I thought that it would be most
interesting to see how the musicians choose their instruments in certain passages.’ the identity and character of the
composition remains the same even when the instruments are changed; each musical idea requires certain kinds of
sound color but not a particular instrument.

On 1 December 2016, the Metropolitan Opera gave its first performance of L'Amour de loin, the first opera by a female composer to
be staged by the company since 1903, and the second opera by a female composer ever to be presented at the Metropolitan Opera.[12]
The subsequent transmission of the opera to cinema on 10 December 2016 as part of the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series
marked the first opera by a female composer,and the first opera conducted by a female conductor Susanna
( Mälkki), in the series.

Awards and honours

1986 – Kranichsteiner Prize atDarmstädter Ferienkurse[13]
1986 – Kranichsteiner Prize atDarmstädter Ferienkurse
1988 – Prix Italia for Stilleben[13]
1989 – Prix Ars Electronica for Stilleben and Io; one-year residency at theUniversity of San Diego[13]
2000 - Nordic Council Music Prizefor Lonh
2003 – Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa by the Faculty of Arts,University of Turku
2003 – Doctor of Philosophyhonoris causa by the Faculty of Arts,University of Helsinki[14]
2003 – University of LouisvilleGrawemeyer Award for L'Amour de loin
2008 – Musical America "Musician of the Year 2008"[15]
2009 – Wihuri Sibelius Prize[16]
2010 – invited by Walter Fink to be the 20th composer featured in the annualKomponistenporträt of the Rheingau
Musik Festival; the second female composer afterSofia Gubaidulina.
2011 – Léonie Sonning Music Prize[17]
2011 – Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording(L'amour de loin)[18]
2013 – Polar Music Prize[19]
2017 – BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Contemporary Music

Selected works
Verblendungen (1984; orchestra, electronics)
Lichtbogen (1986; flute, percussion, piano, harp, strings, live electronics)
Io (1987; large ensemble, electronics)
Nymphéa (1987; string quartet, electronics)
Petals (1988; cello, electronics)
Du cristal... (1989; orchestra, live electronics)
...à la Fumée (1990; solo alto flute and cello, orchestra)
NoaNoa (1992; flute, live electronics)
Graal théâtre (1994; violin, orchestra)
Oltra Mar (1999; chorus and orchestra)[6]
L'Amour de loin (2000; opera)[20][21]
Orion (2002; orchestra)
Adriana Mater (2005; opera)
Asteroid 4179: Toutatis (2005; orchestra)
La Passion de Simone(2006; oratorio/opera)
Adriana Mater (2006; opera, libretto by Amin Maalouf)
Notes on Light (2006; cello concerto)
Terra Memoria (2007; string quartet)
Laterna Magica, (2008; orchestra)
Émilie (2010; opera)
D'Om le Vrai Sens (2010; clarinet concerto)
Circle Map (2012; orchestra)
Maan varjot ("Earth's Shadows") (2013; organ and orchestra)
True Fire (2014; baritone and orchestra)
Trans (2015; harp concerto)
Only The Sound Remains(Always Strong and Feather Mantle)[22]

Selected recordings
Graal Théâtre – Gidon Kremer; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Esa-Pekka Salonen – Sony SK60817
L'Amour de loin – Gerald Finley; Dawn Upshaw; Finnish National Opera; Esa-Pekka Salonen – Deutsche
Grammophon DVD 00440 073 40264
Nymphéa – Cikada String Quartet – ECM New Series 472 4222

1. "Kaija Saariaho (1952–)." Online. N.p., n.d. W
eb. 20 Aug. 2015. <>.
2. Howard Posner. "Du cristal" (
. Los Angeles
Phillharmonic. Retrieved 2014-04-06.
3. Ross, Alex. "Birth." The New Yorker. Condé Nast, 24 Apr. 2006. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.
4. "The CHANT Project: From the Synthesis of the Singing o Vice to Synthesis in General". Rodet, Xavier; Potard, Y
Barriere, Jean-Baptiste.Computer Music Journal, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Autumn, 1984), p. 30. The MITPress. Accessed 2015-08-19.
5. Howell, Tim; Hargreaves, Jon; Rofe, Michael. Kaija Saariaho: visions, narratives, dialogues. Ashgate, 2011. 82-85
6. Cori Ellison (1999-11-07)."Uncovering Beauty in Ordinary Noise"(
ncovering-beauty-in-ordinary-noise.html). New York Times. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
7. "Biography: Kaija Saariaho." Kaija Saariaho. N.p., n.d. W
eb. 20 Aug. 2015. <>
8. "Verblendung", Langenscheidt's Condensed Muret-Sanders Dictionary(ed. Heinz Messinger and the Langenscheidt
Editorial Staff), 1982
9. Saariaho, Kaija. Programme Note: Nymphéa (1987). New oYrk: Commissioned by the Lincoln Center and Doris &
Myron Beigler for the Kronos Quartet., 1987. Print.
10. Moisala, P. (2009). Kaija Saariaho. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 55.
11. Moisala, Pirkko (2009).Kaija Saariaho. USA. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-252-03277-6.
12. Anthony Tommasini (2016-12-02)."Review: A Newly RelevantL'Amour de Loin' at the Met"(
. New York Times. Retrieved
13. Moisala, Pirkko, 'Gender Negotiation of the Composer Kaija Saariaho in Finland: The o
Wman Composer as
Nomadic Subject', in Music and Gender (Pirkko Moisala and Beverley Diamond, editors).University of Illinois Press
(ISBN 978-0-252-02544-0), pp 166-188 (2000).
14. Tapio Ollikainen (Summer 2004)."Four measures of Kaija Saariaho"(
Universitats Helsingiensis. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
15. Mark Swed (2008). "The 2008 Honorees: Composer of the Y ear - Kaija Saariaho" (
atures/?fid=138&fyear=2008). Musical America. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
16. Wihuri Foundation (2009)."Kaija Saariaho" (
. Retrieved 2017-12-12.
17. "Léonie Sonning Prize 2011: Kaija Saariaho"(
x). Léonie Sonnings Musikfond(Press release). May 2011. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
18. Tom Service (2012-07-09)."A guide to Kaija Saariaho's music"(
. The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
19. "Kaija Saariaho: Laureate of the Polar Music Prize 2013"(
Polar Music Prize (Press release). August 2013. Retrieved 2017-01-02.
20. Robert Everett-Green (2012-01-27)."Kaija Saariaho is looking for love in Canada"(
. The Globe and Mail. Toronto.
Retrieved 2012-02-03.
21. "Kaija Saariaho gets lots of love for Love from Afar"(
s-of-love-for-love-from-afar). The Toronto Star. 2 February 2012. Retrieved 2012-02-03.
22. Andrew Clements (2016-03-26)."Only the Sound Remains review - almost perversely unengaging"(https://www.the
. The Guardian.
Retrieved 2016-12-28.

External links
Kaija Saariaho's homepage
Saariaho, Kaija (1952–) National Biography Center
Chester Music Composer's homepage
CompositionToday – Saariaho article and review of works
Kaija Saariaho – Virtual International Philharmonic
'2003 – Kaija Saariaho', Grawemeyer Foundation page on Kaija Saariaho
University of Turku, 'Kunniatohtorit 2003' page on honorary degree recipients
English language biography of Jean-Baptiste Barrière
Sanna Iitti: "Kaija Saariaho: Stylistic Development and Artistic Principles."International Alliance for Women in Music
Journal, 2001.
"Kaija Saariaho biography"(in French). IRCAM.
Excerpts from sound archivesof Saariaho's works.
Ronit Seter, "Saariaho's L'amour de loin: First Woman Composer in a Century at the Metropolitan Opera" in
Musicology Now (American Musicological Society's blog), 15 June 2016
Ronit Seter, "Getting Close with Saariaho andL'amour de loin" in NewMusicBox, 2 December 2016

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