Kaija Saariaho

The wonder that is Twitter. I was having breakfast in front of my laptop when a tweet popped up in the corner of my browser (thanks to the Echofon plug-in for Firefox),

And the remains of my Subway roast chicken sandwich watched the following with me:

As a little girl, Kaija Saariaho heard music in her head when she was trying to sleep, and thought that it was coming from the pillow. She felt the urge to write it down. According to wikipedia, this former student of the Sibelius Academy was “awarded the title Musician of the Year 2008 (announced by Musical America, the US publishing company for performing arts), for being “among the few contemporary composers to achieve public acclaim as well as universal critical respect”. Her opera, Love from Afar, which took her 8 years to write, is apparently already the 21st century’s most performed opera.

Kaija Saariaho (b.1952)

“Her work in the 1980s and 1990s is marked by its emphasis on timbre and use of electronics alongside traditional instruments; Nymphéa (Jardin secret III) (1987), for example, is for string quartet and live electronics. It contains an additional vocal element: the musicians whispering the words to a poem by Tarkovsky. In the late 1990s Saariaho began to expand beyond electronics, often writing strictly acoustic pieces, focusing increasingly on melody.

Saariaho was influenced by post-serialism, but she grew to find it too restrictive: “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.” (Wikipedia)

I have listened to a few pieces on Youtube. They are intriguing, if not immediately to my taste. What interests me from the video via the tweet from @carnegiehall is that she is now composer-in-residence at the Carnegie Hall, New York, reining over the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair.

I am reminded of how Sibelius found appreciation, fame and fortune through the performance of his works in America.  The number of eminent composers coming out of Finland is disproportionately impressive, compared to the rest of the world – a result, I’ve always believed, of the lasting influence of her greatest composer. Whether or not you (or I) can appreciate the works coming from Saariaho or not, the Finnish forces of music are truly a fine example to behold of how the personality of a faraway nation can reach every end of the earth through the sounds of her people.

Follow me on Twitter @dustofhue.

Published by


Leon is Singapore's resident champion of Jean Sibelius.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *