News Update


Known Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho passes away at age 70.

Kaija Saariaho, a Finnish composer regarded as a pioneer in classical music, passed away at the age of 70.

According to her family, she was given a severe brain cancer diagnosis in 2021 but chose to keep it a secret so she could concentrate on her job.

Although she composed a highly regarded violin concerto in her early works, her premiere opera L’Amour de loin, which debuted in 2000, marked her international success.

The film’s director, Peter Sellars, referred to the “secret beauty” of her music.


Her most recent opera, Innocence, didn’t premiere in the UK at the Royal Opera House until April 2023.

It is sung in nine different languages and is about a mass shooting; it is set at an international school in Helsinki.

Her most recent composition, Hush, a trumpet concerto, was just finished at the end of March and will be performed for the first time in Helsinki, where she was born in 1952.

She explained to the BBC last year how she had been inspired by the natural world: “I was a very solitary child and I spent all the summers in my mother’s home village surrounded by big forests on a lake that I loved the sound.”

She has discussed how learning to play the violin, piano, guitar, and later the organ in nearby churches came about as a result of her fascination with the sounds of the wind, snow-covered boots, or waves.

Many of her operatic works were directed by Peter Sellars, who claimed that her music has an endless life force. There isn’t any other song like that in the entire world. He told BBC Radio 3 that “every performance is brand-new amazing.”

Robert Lepage’s staging of “L’Amour de loin” ( “Love from Afar”) final dress rehearsal, with conductor Susanna Malkki (left) and Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (right) taking a bow.
Since 1903, Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de loin was the first opera by a woman to be staged at the New York Met.
She was ranked 17th out of the 50 greatest composers of all time in a BBC Music magazine poll last year, between Brahms and Haydn.

Saariaho studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki in the 1970s under conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and composer Magnus Lindberg. All of them had benefited Finland’s extensive network of music schools, and they later founded the modern music-focused organization Korvat auki (Ears Open).

She eventually grew tired of being known as the sole female composer in Finland and relocated to Germany before continuing on to Paris, where in 1982 she enrolled in a computer music course at the famed Ircam school.

She continues to serve as an inspiration for composers in Finland, both male and female.

Saariaho stated that she still felt extremely Finnish in an interview with BBC Music Matters earlier this year. “I don’t believe I ever left Finland, actually. I’m usually pretty direct and truthful. I dislike public speaking and debates, and I believe French people engage in both frequently.

She met Jean-Baptiste Barrière in Paris, whom she eventually wed and worked with. She was in Helsinki while he was still in Paris in 2020 when the Covid epidemic broke out.

She noted at the time, “I will be apart from my husband for a longer period of time than ever before.”

Her family said in a statement released on Friday that her case should help bring attention to the predicament of people with impaired immune systems. “Twice Kaija has contracted Covid in public settings where insufficient precautions, if any, were taken to protect the most vulnerable among us,” says the statement.

The Orchestre de Paris paid tribute to Kaija Saariaho, saying that it was with great regret that they had learnt of her passing. “With Kaija, we shared so many wonderful musical moments,” they added.

She was one of the most important composers of her time, according to the Royal Opera House, and had a great influence on its listeners.


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