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Pioneering composer and opera queen Kaija Saariaho dies

“She died prematurely at the age of 70, but lived a full life.

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Pioneering composer and opera queen Kaija Saariaho dies

“She died prematurely at the age of 70, but lived a full life. It is in these terms that the family of Kaija Saariaho announced this Friday the death of the famous composer, without a doubt one of the most celebrated musical creators of our time. She was suffering from an incurable form of brain cancer, diagnosed in February 2021, her relatives further specify in a press release, indicating that she died "peacefully in her bed, at her home in Paris", and calling for respect the necessary time for their mourning.

Until her last moments, she continued to compose, spending the last few months finalizing her latest work: her trumpet concerto "Hush", which will be premiered in Helsinki, her hometown, on August 24, under the baton of Finnish chef Susanna Mälkki. She also recently took part in the jury of an organ composition competition that she herself had founded on the occasion of the inauguration of the instrument that adorns the Helsinki Music Center.

She was born in the Finnish capital on October 14, 1952. It was there that she began learning music at the age of six. First training in the piano, the violin and then the organ, before joining twenty years later the prestigious composition class of the Sibelius Academy, led by Paavo Heininen. However, it was in France, in Paris, that her destiny as a designer experienced its most important turning point. After her encounter with the spectral movement, in particular Tristan Murail and Gérard Grisey, she moved there in 1982 and joined Ircam, where she became familiar with electronics and began to develop an eminently personal language, where the fascination for orchestral colors and the light of instrumental timbres meet his interest in the transformation of sounds.

After a first violin concerto in 1995, she encountered the voice in 1996 with the work Château de l'âme, for solo soprano, women's choir and orchestra. Premiered at the Salzburg Festival with the participation of soloist Dawn Upshaw, the score opens the doors to the lyrical world, into which she will rush at the dawn of the new century with an operatic inspiration that will never dry up until the recent creation of Innocence: his last opera, a true masterpiece commissioned jointly by the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, Covent Garden, the Finnish National Opera, that of San Francisco and that of the Netherlands .

It must be said that in the space of twenty years, and since the creation of her first opera L'Amour de loin in 2000, also at the Salzburg Festival, Kaija Saariaho had established herself in the eyes of the musical world as an essential figure. of lyrical art... And without doubt THE greatest opera composer, to date, in the history of music. In December 2016, she became only the second woman to ever have an opera premiered on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It was for L'Amour de Loin, precisely.

It was while attending Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise, in the version by Peter Sellars for the Salzburg Festival in 1992, and with the ecstatic soprano Dawn Upshaw in the role of the Angel, that the musician, then aged 40 years old, had wanted to try his hand at the operatic genre. As early as 1993, she had her subject: a 12th century Aquitanian troubadour, Jaufré Rudel, and his quest for an ideal distanced love. A "story of love and death"... The fitting plot of any opera. L'Amour de loin has all the lyrical exception. The sex of its composer. The perfection of its libretto, written in French and signed Amin Maalouf. A captivating, dreamlike style. A skilful blend of extreme refinement and simplicity. The success of the work is immediate. As much for its atmosphere as for its emotional impact. It is then compared to Saint Francis of Assisi by Messiaen, to Pelléas et Mélisande by Debussy, and even to Tristan und Isolde by Wagner!

Kaija Saariaho's collaboration with the Franco-Lebanese writer will continue on the operas Adriana Mater and Émilie, as well as on the oratorio La Passion de Simone, dedicated to the philosopher Simone Weil, a figure who has fascinated her since her adolescence. . “I had discovered it through a translation of La Gravité et la Grâce. I was surprised by his way of trying, in his notebooks, to pierce the mysteries of our existence through mathematical formulas, studies of ancient Greek or philosophy. Constraining his thinking with an almost scientific approach fascinated me. Looking back, it seems pretty similar to what I tried to do through music myself. Whether by taking an interest in electronics or the French spectral school or even in the very action of composing, which for me is nothing other than trying to penetrate, through music, the riddles of existence. It wasn't until much later that I learned about her life and was gripped by its dramatic significance", she confided to us in 2014, at the dawn of a new version of the work presented at the Festival. of Saint Denis.

By a strange irony of history, Simone Weil, whom Saariaho admired so much, died on August 24, 1943... That is 80 years just before the planned creation of Kaija Saariaho's trumpet concerto: his ultimate work.

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