Press Release: Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2011 to composer Kaija Saariaho
The Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho is 57 years' old. During the last quarter of a century, her works have confirmed time and again that she is one of the most outstanding composers of our time: A rare contemporary composer whose music is performed by, for example, the New York Philharmonic, at the Salzburg festival and by the world's greatest soloists.
In Denmark we know Kaija Saariaho from concerts with the LINensemble, Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra – and from her visit in Copenhagen ten years ago when she was awarded the Nordic Council Music Prize.
Saariaho has created transparent, vibrant and expressive new music not distancing itself from the audience. She is living with her family in Paris, far from her home country, where she enjoys not being subject to too much public attention.
The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 600,000 is awarded to Kaija Saariaho at a concert on Thursday, 5 May 2011, at 19.30 at the DR Concert Hall with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Storgårds (see below). Storgårds is very familiar with Kaija Saariaho's music, and two years ago he conducted her cello concerto with the same orchestra.
In addition, a Saariaho concert is held on Wednesday, 4 May 2010 with Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen conducted by Pierre André Valade (see below).
Kaija Saariaho is the 11th composer who is awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize – and the second female composer. Previous laureate composers include Stravinskij, Lutoslawski, Britten, Sjostakovitj, Messiaen, Boulez, Ligeti, Nørgård, Gubaidulina, Kurtág and Arvo Pärt.
Even though Kaija Saariaho's parents were not musicians, she was surrounded by music in her childhood. Later, she studied music at the Sibelius Academy – and for a period art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. At the Sibelius Academy she was taught by Paavo Heininen in composition and her fellow students included Esa-Pekka Salonen and Magnus Lindberg who are good friends. In Darmstadt and Fribourg she attended courses with Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber. In the international computer environment at the IRCAM studios in Paris, Saariaho encountered the so-called spectral music exploring the world of timbres. In this melting pot of art and science, Saariaho developed a unique, sensuous musical idiom – music which is sensual, descriptive and lyrical.
She was constantly searching for new timbres and sounds, both the sounds of acoustic instruments and computer-animated sounds, and in the 1980’s she achieved a breakthrough and became famous and recognised for works such as ”Verblendungen” for orchestra and tape (1982-84), ”Lichtbogen” for chamber ensemble and live electronics (1985-86) and ”Nymphéa” commissioned by the Lincoln Centre for the Kronos Quartet.
In the 1990’s, Kaija Saariaho's music became more expressive, often faster in melodic fluctuations – and rhythmical elements became stronger; still with timbres and colours as central elements of her music. Her principal works include the violin concerto ”Graal théâtre” written for Gidon Kremer in 1995, two works dedicated to the American soprano Dawn Upshaw: ”Château de l’âme” (premiered at the Salzburg Festical in 1996) and ”Lonh” (premiered at the Wien Modern Festival in 1996). Also "Oltra mar” for orchestra and choir (premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1999).
Another breakthrough – reaching even further – was Saariaho's first opera, premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2000 – the opera ”L’Amour de loin” staged by Peter Sellars (about a French troubadour and his distant love), which was a great success.
Her second opera, ”Adriana Mater”, was staged by Peter Sellars at Opéra Bastille in 2006, and at this very moment - 3 February 2010 - the rehearsals for Saariaho's third opera, ”Emilie”, are starting in Lyon.
Kaija Saariaho has received several honours and prizes for her music: In 2003, she received one of the most prestigious composition awards in the world, the American Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition; also Prix Italia, Musical America Composer of the year 2008; and in 2000 Kaija Saariaho came to Copenhagen to receive the Nordic Council Music Prize for the work "Lonh”. At that time, she told journalist Anders Beyer from the Danish newspaper Information: "I feel Nordic. I haven't become French merely by living in Paris. I have a very strong Finnish and Nordic identity … Nordic culture is strong and sometimes very different from, for example, French culture. My music is widely recognised around the world, but, strangely enough, not as much in the Nordic countries, so against that background I am delighted to receive the Nordic Council Music Prize".
Wednesday, 4 May, The Black Diamond, Copenhagen
Composer portrait of Kaija Saariaho:
Die Aussicht (1996)
Je sens un deuxième cœur (2003)
Miranda's Lament (1997)
L'Aile du songe (2001)
Camilla Hoitenga, flute
Signe Asmussen, vocal
Kaija Saariaho, sound engineer
Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen
Conductor Pierre André Valade
Thursday, 5 May, at 19.30 at the DR Concert Hall
Saariaho: Adriana Songs for mezzo soprana and orchestra
Saariaho: Laterna Magica (premiered in September 2010 by the Berliner Philharmoniker and Simon Rattle)
Stravinskij: The Firebird
Lilli Paasikivi, mezzo soprano
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: John Storgårds
Chairman of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation
Copenhagen 8. February 2010
Click here to download press images of Kaija Saariaho