Kaija Saariaho

Kaija Saariaho

The mentor

Published in 2015

Acknowledged as one of the leading composers of recent times, Kaija Saariaho is known for her brilliant creations that often blend traditional instruments with electronics for chamber music, orchestral works and operas. “Saariaho has given her audiences... some of the most luminous, beguiling and sheerly sensual experiences they can hope to have,” says London’s Guardian newspaper.

As a child in Finland, Saariaho grew up playing several instruments and conjuring up melodies in her dreams: “I imagined that [music] came from my pillow,” she says. Beginning in 1976, she studied composition in Helsinki, Freiburg and Paris, where she has lived most of the time since 1982. At IRCAM, the Parisian institute for research of electro-acoustic music, Saariaho developed compositional techniques that have had a major influence on her work.

Early examples of Saariaho’s success were Verblendungen (1984) and Nymphéa (1987), a chamber piece commissioned by Lincoln Center and premiered by the Kronos Quartet. Among the many works she has produced since then in collaboration with such artists as Amin Maalouf (librettist), Peter Sellars (director) and Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor) are four operas – the Grawemeyer Award-winning L’Amour de loin (2000), Adriana Mater (2006), Emilie (2010) and Only the sound remains (to be premiered in Amsterdam in March 2016) – and the oratorio La Passion de Simone (2006). Her most recent orchestral work is Circle Map (2012), inspired by ancient Persian poems. True Fire, Saariaho’s song cycle for baritone Gerald Finley, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony and the NDR Orchestra, had its premiere in May 2015.

Singled out as one of the few contemporary composers to achieve both public acclaim and universal critical respect, Saariaho was named Musician of the Year 2008 by online publisher Musical America. Adding to Saariaho’s list of prizes is Sweden’s 2013 Polar Music Prize, which she received along with former Rolex Mentor Youssou N’ Dour, in recognition of her exceptional contribution to the world of music.