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Festival celebrates composer Kaija Saariaho’s 60th birthday

Kaija Saariaho is one of Finland’s most internationally renowned new music composers. Helsinki Music Centre is celebrating the composer’s 60th birthday with a weeklong festival of concerts and events.

Kaija Saariaho.
Kaija Saariaho. Image: Yle

Saariaho studied composition at the Sibelius Academy from 1976 to 1981 with composer Paavo Heininen. She also studied in Germany and France, where she later settled. Paris has been home to Saariaho for 30 years.

Counted among the third generation of Finnish modernists, along with Magnus Lindberg, Jouni Kaipainen and Esa-Pekka Salonen, Saariaho has also come to be known for her use of new technology and computers in her work.

She has composed operas, orchestral works, chamber music, an oratorio, and even music for a ballet. Her greatest success to date is her 2000 opera L’Amour de loin.

As one of Finland’s most recognized and internationally in-demand composers, Saariaho has received numerous prestigious prizes for her music, which is played all across the globe.  

A week of festivities

The new Helsinki Music Centre is staging a string of events to celebrate the composer’s 60th birthday. Yle’s Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the Sibelius Academy, which is housed in the Music Centre buildings, are all offering special concerts to mark the occasion.

On Saturday, international researchers convened at the music centre for a symposium delving into Saariaho’s music. Arranged by Sibelius Academy’s vocal music division, the symposium is part of the “Voices, Spaces, Senses” festival at the Music Centre, which culminates with Sunday evening’s concert by the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra.

Avanti! will treat audiences to the Finnish premiere of Saariaho’s Emilie Suite, performed by French soprano Karen Vourc'h.

RSO concert broadcast live

Yle’s Radio Symphony Orchestra and Kaija Saariaho have a long history of collaboration. The orchestra has performed nearly all of Saariaho’s orchestral works.

The week of birthday celebrations ends on Friday 19 October with a RSO concert broadcast on Yle Radio 1, and streamed live on the web.

The orchestra conducted by Finnish luminary Esa-Pekka Salonen will perform Saariaho’s oratorio La Passion de Simone, featuring new visualisations by the composer’s spouse, multimedia artist Jean-Baptiste Barrière.

The visualisations are Barrière’s and Yle’s birthday gift to the 60-year-old new music giant.

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