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In Memoriam: Saying Goodbye to Kaija Saariaho

By Michael Vincent on June 5, 2023

Kaija Saariaho
Kaija Saariaho (Photo Olivier Roller)

Renowned Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho has died, June 3, 2023, at the age of 70. According to her family, the cause of death was glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer.

The composer leaves behind a significant body of work that places her as a central figure in contemporary classical music, particularly opera and orchestral music.

Background: Born on October 14, 1952, in Helsinki, Saariaho began her musical journey at a young age. She studied composition at the Sibelius Academy in her hometown before pursuing further education in Germany and France. Embracing innovation and experimentation, Saariaho’s works often blended prerecorded electronics with traditional orchestral instruments, creating mesmerizing sonic landscapes.

Legacy: During her illustrious career, Saariaho composed a plethora of acclaimed pieces that pushed the boundaries of classical music. Her breakthrough work, “L’Amour de Loin” (Love from Afar), premiered in 2000 at the Salzburg Festival and catapulted her to international recognition. The opera’s ethereal melodies and haunting harmonies captivated audiences worldwide, establishing Saariaho as a trailblazer in the field.

Saariaho’s compositions were not only cherished by music enthusiasts but also recognized by esteemed institutions. In 2011, she became the first female composer to receive the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, honouring her composition “L’Amour de Loin.” Her other notable works include “Graal théâtre,” “Orion,” and “Lonh.”

Why her work was so important:  Kaija Saariaho’s pioneering spirit and visionary compositions have left an indelible impact on contemporary classical music. By fearlessly merging electronic elements with traditional orchestration, she expanded the sonic possibilities of the genre. Her groundbreaking work has inspired countless composers and continues to shape the future of classical music.

What they’re saying:






Final thoughts: Through her evocative compositions, she ignited our imagination and challenged our perception of what music could be. Her ethereal melodies and emotive harmonies will continue to enchant and resonate with audiences for generations to come. Kaija Saariaho’s legacy is a testament to the power of innovation in classical music.

Michael Vincent
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