Kaija Saariaho is a prominent member of a group of Finnish composers and performers who are now, in mid-career, making a worldwide impact. Born in Helsinki in 1952, she studied at the Sibelius Academy there with the pioneering modernist Paavo Heininen and, with Magnus Lindberg and others, she founded the progressive ‘Ears Open’ group. She continued her studies in Freiburg with Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber, at the Darmstadt summer courses, and, from 1982, at the IRCAM research institute in Paris – the city which has been her home ever since.
At IRCAM, Saariaho developed techniques of computer-assisted composition and acquired fluency in working on tape and with live electronics. This experience influenced her approach to writing for orchestra, with its emphasis on the shaping of dense masses of sound in slow transformations. Significantly, her first orchestral piece, Verblendungen (1984), involves a gradual exchange of roles and character between orchestra and tape. And even the titles of her next, linked, pair of orchestral works, Du Cristal (1989) and …à la Fumée (1990) – the latter with solo alto flute and cello, and both with live electronics – suggest their preoccupation with colour and texture.
Through IRCAM, Saariaho became allied with the French ‘spectralist’ composers, whose techniques are based on computer analysis of the sound-spectrum of individual notes on different instruments. This analytical approach led her to the regular use of harmonies resting on long-held bass notes, microtonal intervals, and a precisely detailed continuum of sound extending from pure tone to unpitched noise – all features of one of her most frequently performed works, Graal théâtre for violin and orchestra or ensemble (1994/97).
In recent years Saariaho has turned to opera, with outstanding success. L’Amour de loin, with a libretto by Amin Maalouf based on an early biography of the twelfth-century troubadour Jaufré Rudel, received widespread acclaim in its premiere production directed by Peter Sellars at the 2000 Salzburg Festival, and won the composer a prestigious Grawemeyer Award. Adriana Mater, on an original libretto by Maalouf, mixing gritty present-day reality and dreams, followed, again directed by Sellars, at the Opéra Bastille in Paris in March 2006.
Around the operas there have been other vocal works, notably the ravishing Château de l’âme (1996), Oltra mar (1999), and the song-cycle Quatre instants (2002). And the evening-long La Passion de Simone, portraying the life and death of the philosopher Simone Weil, will form part of Sellars’s international festival ‘New Crowned Hope’ in 2006/07.
The experience of writing for voices has led to some simplification of Saariaho’s language, with a new vein of modally oriented melody accompanied by more regular repeating patterns. This change of direction has been carried over into orchestral works including Aile du songe for flute and chamber orchestra (2001) and the stunning Orion for large orchestra (2002) – with a new cello concerto to come for the Boston Symphony Orchestra in February 2007.
In the profusion of large and small works which Saariaho has produced in recent years, two features which have marked her whole career continue to stand out. One is a close and productive association with individual artists – not least Amin Maalouf and Peter Sellars, as well as the conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, the flautist Camilla Hoitenga, the cellist Anssi Karttunen, the soprano Dawn Upshaw and, more recently, the pianist Emmanuel Ax. The other is a concern, shown equally in her choice of subject matter and texts and in the profusion of expression marks in her scores, to make her music not a working-out of abstract processes but an urgent communication from composer to listener of ideas, images and emotions.
Anthony Burton, 2006
Kaija Saariaho : Verblendungen
commissioned by the Finnish Broadcasting Company
tape realised in the GRM's digital studio (Paris) and the Finnish Radio's Experimental Studio
Edition Wilhelm Hansen, Helsinki
The tape part has been worked out with GRM's digital tools for manipulating and transforming concrete sound material. The basic material for the tape consists of two violin sounds, a sforzato stroke and a pizzicato. From these two sounds I have built a quasi-string orchestra with a very wide pitch range. The timbres on the tape are very homogeneous because of this single reference spectrum.
The total plan for the use of timbre in the piece is based on the idea that the orchestra and the tape are moving in opposite directions with respect to the tone-noise axis. The piece starts with a thick orchestral tutti, which is first hidden and than shaded by the noise on the tape. During the piece the orchestral colouring is transformed into instrumental noises, which, before withering away, shade the quasi-string orchestra on the tape. The orchestra is built to have a heterogeneous nature to contrast with the even colours on the tape. In spite of their different, sometimes opposite materials, the orchestra and the tape should build a common, inseparable sound world. When composing the piece an important factor has been the relation of the surface structure and deeper musical and formal structures. In my network of connections between different parameters I am searching for intersections not only vertically and horizontally on the time axis, but also in the direction of depth, as if the sounds were organised in think layers in three dimensional perspective, starting from dry, grainy sounds in front and moving towards smooth, more resonant ones.
Dazzling, different surfaces, tissues, textures. Weights, gravity. To be blinded. Interpolations. Reflections. Death. The sum of independent worlds. Shading, refracting the colour.
Kaija Saariaho : Lichtbogen
commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture
Edition Wilhelm Hansen, Helsinki
Large Ensemble (7 or more players)
The name LICHTBOGEN stems from Northern Lights which I saw in the Arctic sky when starting to work with this piece. When looking at the movements of these immense, silent lights which run over the black sky, first ideas concerning the form and language for the piece started to move in my mind. What is the dependence - and does it exist at all? - between this phenomenon of nature and my piece, I don't know.
In LICHTBOGEN I work for the first time with computer in the context of purely instrumental music. Special harmony and rhythm are worked out with two different tools in IRCAM.
For harmony I have worked with the CRIME system developed by Claudy Malherbe and Gerard Assayag: the harmonic material is created by analysing short transitions played with a violoncello, starting from artificial harmonic sound and ending to complex 'multiphonic' sounds. The analyses have been made by selecting many small windows in the different parts of the sound. From the results of the analyses I have reconstructed the transitions and made harmonic processes, which are often combined to the original playing manners of the analysed sound, so that harmony and timbral thinking stem from the same source.
For the rhythm I use a network for programmes which I have realised with Xavier Rodet in the FORMES environment. These programmes allowed me to construct interpolations and transitions for different musical parameters. The rhythmic interpolations here are created between different musical patterns by using circular lists, in which every time when repeated, values have changed, and thus modified the general character of the pattern. The calculated results have then been transcribed with approximations, which allows them to be playable to musical notation.
LICHTBOGEN is a commission of the French Ministry of Culture and is dedicated to Paul Mefano.
Ch‚teau de l'‚me for Soprano and Orchestra (1995)
i La liane
ii A la terre
iii La liane
iv Pour repousser l'esprit
v Les formules
Dawn Upshaw, soprano
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Taken from Sony Classical 60817 (2001)
Finnish music flourishes
Kaija Saariaho & Magnus Lindberg
On the world map, Finland is a tiny country; but on the world map of contemporary music, Finland is a superpower. Thanks to Jean Sibelius, music occupies a central position in Finnish society. Over the past 30 years, Finnish music has enjoyed a unique boom. New operas, orchestral works and chamber music works are being commissioned and performed continuously.
The top names in Finnish contemporary music are also major international figures. In the 1990s, Finnish contemporary music established a powerful presence in the international music industry. The music of Kaija Saariaho, Magnus Lindberg, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kalevi Aho is being published and recorded all the time, and their works are also being performed regularly at major centres of music around the world.
Coexistence of styles
Expressive and even Neo-Romantic stylistic trends coexist with streamlined Modernism. The vitality of Modernist ideals is evident in the work of Paavo Heininen and Jukka Tiensuu, while the symphonic tradition is continued by composers such as Aulis Sallinen, Pehr Henrik Nordgren, Jouni Kaipainen, Rautavaara and Aho.
There are also composers whose idioms transcend stylistic boundaries, such as Kimmo Hakola, who combines uncompromising Modernism with a Romantic ethos; Mikko Heiniö, whose output includes a series of piano concertos unique in Finnish music; and Juhani Nuorvala, who has imported a slightly Minimalist urban undertone to the Finnish musical scene. Intimate chamber music is also doing well in Finland alongside orchestral music (we might mention Usko Meriläinen in this context).
In addition to the established composers, Finland’s high-quality music education system is constantly bringing new names to the scene. Beginning in the 1990s, a new generation of composers has emerged, with a colourful pluralism of values and techniques. Uljas Pulkkis writes luxurious, almost Romantic music; Lotta Wennäkoski has a modern, restrained and lyrical style; Tommi Kärkkäinen, by contrast, is highly expressive. Veli-Matti Puumala and Perttu Haapanen have perhaps the tightest links to the Modernist tradition.
The Last Temptations by
A land of opera
The opera boom began in the 1970s with the operas of Joonas Kokkonen and Aulis Sallinen. Since then, nearly every year has seen the emergence of a major opera by composers such as Aho, Rautavaara, Heininen, or Olli Kortekangas. Sallinen and Rautavaara have been the most prolific in this genre, and their operas have been staged in numerous productions in Europe and the USA.
The opera event of the year in 2000 was the premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s first opera "L’amour de loin" at the Salzburg Music Festival. The immense publicity it received resulted in several
productions of the work, and Saariaho received the distinguished Grawemeyer Prize in recognition of her career in 2003.
The Savonlinna Opera Festival and the new Opera House of the Finnish National Opera (1993), enabling the staging of more experimental productions, have contributed to the strong position that opera occupies in Finland today. It is also significant that there are a dozen provincial opera companies in Finland outside Helsinki. The opera boom peaked in the year 2000 with at least 14 new Finnish operas receiving their world premieres.
The choral tradition is also strong in Finland. Choirs are active in commissioning and performing contemporary music, children's and youth choirs not excepted. Finland's distinguished choral composers include Erik Bergman, Rautavaara, Pekka Kostiainen, Kortekangas, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi and Juhani Komulainen.
In Finland, contemporary music is strongly represented in all aspects of musical life: music education, regular concert series, publishing, recording and festivals (e.g. the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, the Helsinki Festival, Musica nova Helsinki, Time of Music or the Tampere biennale). The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic, Sinfonia Lahti and the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra constantly perform Finnish contemporary music on their foreign tours, and our world-famous conductors are familiar with the domestic contemporary repertoire.
The Web pages of the Finnish Music Information Centre contain an extensive survey of Finnish concert music. We have produced overviews, composer catalogues, programme notes and instrument-specific listings. The News section contains the latest information on Finnish music.