March 2001

Saariaho: From loner to world fame

Kaija Saariaho has recently been gaining an international reputation. However, she is still an enigmatic composer, of whom few details are known by the music public. Some of her friends and colleagues — like Magnus Lindberg and Esa-Pekka Salonen — are better known internationally and in Finland. As a matter of fact, Saariaho was a member of the same group of musicians and composers who many years ago formed an association called "Open Your Ears".

Saariaho has led a cosmopolitan life, having lived in France since 1982 and spent some years in the United States in the late 80s. In Paris she composed her first internationally acclaimed works like Verblendungen. In America she also created remarkable works of music, among them Nymphea for a string quartet. The latter work was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet.

In a recent music festival in Turku, Aboa Musica, Saariaho's work was featured with another internationally known Finnish composer, Aulis Sallinen. The regional daily, Turun Sanomat (15 March 2001), noted that Sallinen is better known than Saariaho by the Finnish public, mainly through his operas.

In an interview with Turun Sanomat, Saariaho said that she has always been a loner.

"That is why the 'Open Your Ears' association made it possible to move from solitude to a community where doors were opened both outwards and inwards. In addition to concerts, we organised 'inner circle' seminars where the most honest criticism came from those closest to you. It promoted professionalism and raised one's self-confidence.

"A woman's self-confidence takes longer to develop than men's. We are more reserved. Luckily I am not being categorised as a composer according to my gender. This threshold I have crossed — at least almost."

In the interview, Saariaho explained some details of her career as a composer.

"So far I have went through all the genres, opera included. Normally, after big works I have always returned — in the twilight of sleepless and nervous nights — to small forms."

Saariaho reminisced about the premier of her opera L'amour de loin in Salzburg last year. It was a success which is now being repeated in many opera houses around the world. By the end of this year, L'amour de loin will be performed in Paris and Berlin. In Helsinki, however, it won't be performed until 2004.

In the Aboa Musica festival, the audience was treated to Saariaho's Lonh for a soprano singer (in this concert Pia Freund) and the violin concerto Graal Théâtre (with violinist John Storgårds). The Turku City Orchestra was conducted by Grant Llewellyn. Lonh also incorporates live electronical sounds. The critic Tomi Norha wrote in Turun Sanomat (17 March 2001) that the work was utterly captivating. He heard "magic" in the performance. Norha also praised Llewellyn's conducting.

See also:

Saariaho: From the Grammar of Dreams

29 September 2000


Oramo: "Special flair for balancing complex textures"

21 September 2000

Vänskä "blows hot and cold"

21 August 2000

Lindberg: "The Modernist with a twist"

18 August 2000

Franck: "Outstandingly gifted conductor"

30 July 2000

Gothoni to become ECO's chief conductor

20 June 2000

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