Kaija Saari­aho

Imag­i­na­tive and spell­bind­ing, the Fin­nish com­poser’s mu­sic takes us into pri­vate, mys­te­ri­ous in­ner worlds, says Kate Wake­l­ing

BBC Music Magazine - - Composer Of The Month - IL­LUS­TRA­TION: MATT HER­RING

For Fin­nish com­poser Kaija Saari­aho, the world fizzes with se­cret mu­sic. As a child, she imag­ined com­po­si­tions swim­ming up from her pil­low as she fell asleep, and she has said that she need only look at a tele­phone di­rec­tory for the list­ings to spring to life as sound. Saari­aho’s scores of­fer a glimpse of these mys­te­ri­ous ‘sonic im­ages’, as she calls them. From her break­through work for or­ches­tra and elec­tron­ics, Verblendun­gen (1984), to her Noh-in­spired opera Only the Sound Re­mains (2015), Saari­aho’s mu­sic is com­plex, emo­tion­ally di­rect and ut­terly spell­bind­ing. What’s more, it doesn’t sound like any­one else’s.

Now in her mid-six­ties, Saari­aho is ar­guably the most suc­cess­ful fe­male com­poser alive. She has been com­mis­sioned by a who’s who of con­tem­po­rary mu­sic across the globe and has won countless awards. ★er mu­sic is mon­u­men­tal yet in­tro­spec­tive. It of­ten charts the bound­ary be­tween mu­sic and noise, blend­ing acous­tic in­stru­ments with elec­tron­i­cally gen­er­ated ef­fects to cre­ate won­drous, cos­mic sound­scapes. But for all the ex­ploratory strange­ness of her mu­sic, Saari­aho is al­ways alert to how it af­fects the ear – and the heart. It is the ‘in­ner space’ that in­ter­ests her. Com­po­si­tion is about find­ing new ways to com­mu­ni­cate with the lis­tener, not the ‘di­a­grams on the black­board’ ap­proach to mu­sic that she en­coun­tered dur­ing post-se­rial stud­ies in Ger­many in the 1980s. Which is not to say Saari­aho’s com­po­si­tional tech­nique is any­thing other than strin­gent. ★er scores are dizzy­ingly com­pli­cated and pre­cise. But her cre­ative process, Saari­aho has said, is about con­nect­ing her in­tel­lect with her ‘whole be­ing’. It is an in­ti­mate and in­tensely hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.

For all her glit­ter­ing suc­cess, Saari­aho did not have an easy ride into the world of clas­si­cal mu­sic. She was born in ★elsinki in 1952 and de­scribes her fam­ily as mostly un­e­d­u­cated and ‘without any kind of cul­tural back­ground’. As a young child, Saari­aho found her imag­i­na­tion filled with sounds that she had no way to ex­press and her par­ents were at best un­in­ter­ested in her mu­si­cal cu­rios­ity. ‘Mu­sic was my

Saari­aho was a shy and anx­ious stu­dent, yet pos­sessed an as­ton­ish­ing strength of will

own uni­verse,’ she says. Aged 12, she be­gan at­tend­ing con­certs on her own, hear­ing the steady stream of Rus­sian greats who passed through ★elsinki dur­ing the 1960s, from pi­anist Svi­atoslav Richter to cel­list Mstislav Rostropovich. She learned the vi­o­lin at school and started to com­pose her own pieces, hes­i­tant as to their merit but driven by a pow­er­ful urge to ex­press her­self. This mix­ture of self-doubt and de­ter­mi­na­tion framed her early stud­ies. Saari­aho was a shy and anx­ious stu­dent, yet pos­sessed an as­ton­ish­ing strength of will: she sim­ply knew she must com­pose. And so, on be­ing told that there was no space on Paavo ★eini­nen’s com­po­si­tion course at the pres­ti­gious Si­belius Academy in the 1970s, Saari­aho staged some­thing of a sit-in, in­sist­ing that she would not leave the room un­til ★eini­nen ad­mit­ted her to the class. It worked.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.