Kaija Saariaho

© Maarik Kytöharju

Léonie Sonning Prize 2011

The Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize, and 600,000 Danish kroner, during a concert on 5 May 2011 at the DR Concert Hall in Copenhagen. The concert was attended by Prince Henrik and broadcast live on the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s DRK television channel and P2 radio channel. It was also live streamed to Finland.


The prize was presented by Bertel Krarup, principal of the Royal Danish Academy of Music and a member of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation’s board. His personal speech included the following citation:

‘The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 600,000 Danish kroner is awarded to the composer Kaija Saariaho in recognition of more than 25 years creating works of notable originality, great beauty and intense communicative power. Rooted in an exploration of sound and timbre, over the years Saariaho has developed a deeply personal musical language that is at once colourful and expressive, and at the same time transparent and elegant. Since the mid 1990s, she has increasingly written herself into the great European tradition, into which she has herself breathed new life and helped draw into the twenty-first century.’


Kaija Saariaho Laterna Magica for orchestra 2008)

Kaija Saariaho Adriana Songs for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (2006) (libretto: Amin Maalouf)
Igor Stravinsky The Firebird (1910)

Lilli Paasikivi, mezzo-soprano
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra
John Storgårds, conductor

Kaija Saariaho in Danmark

In connection with the prize concert, Kaija Saariaho’s music was performed in a number of additional concerts.

 1 May, Copenhagen Opera House’s Takkelloftet:

Saariaho and Other Gardens


Kaija Saariaho Lonh, for soprano and electronics (1996)

Kaija Saariaho NoaNoa, for flute and electronics (1992)

Kaija Saariaho Six Japanese Gardens, for percussion and electronics (1995)

Edsjö/Dill/Pontoppidan 3 Passages


Randi Pontoppidan, voice and electronics

Jennifer Dill, flute

Linda Edsjö, percussion

3 May, Kulturværftet, Helsingør / 4 May, The Royal Danish Library:

Kaija Saariaho Portrait Concert


Kaija Saariaho Laconisme de l’aile (1982)

Kaija Saariaho Die Aussicht (1996)

Kaija Saariaho Miranda’s Lament (1997)

Kaija Saariaho Terrestre (2002)

Kaija Saariaho Je sens un deuxième coeur (2003)

Kaija Saariaho: Solar (1993)


Camilla Hoitenga, flute

Signe Asmussen, soprano

Kaija Saariaho, sound design

Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen

Pierre-André Valade, conductor

6 May, the Royal Danish Academy of Music


Kaija Saariaho Amers, Cello Concerto No 1 (1992)

Per Nørgård Helle Nacht, Violin Concerto No 1

Kaija Saariaho New Gates, for flute, harp and cello (1996)

Per Nørgård Momentum, Cello Concerto No 2 (Danish premiere)


Peter Herresthal, violin

Jakob Kullberg, cello

Ensemble Ernst

Thomas Rimuhl, conductor

The daily press wrote, among other things:

She distinguishes herself as one of the greatest composers of our time in a profession dominated by men. She has followed her own path, living in Paris for the last 30 years, resisting established tastes and with hard intellectual graft in front of the computer screen and at the composer’s desk, forging new highways for music that always contain a literary or spiritual dimension. Saariaho has garnered a major following throughout the world, and the awarding of the Sonning Music Prize might be taken as a wake-up call to the Danes. Laterna Magica was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s memoir, and was premiered last year by the Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle, for whom it was written. Saariaho’s long fascination with flickering light is evident in her work’s long quest to explore the spectral qualities of her own music’s notes, and here the projections that made her ‘magic lantern’ were expressed in the music. It was an intoxicating performance, where enchanted landscapes appeared one after another, reflective surface after sharp rhythm and light of all shades: gentle, direct, hazy, overwhelming.

(Valdemar Lønsted, Information, 7 May 2011)

In the same profound, elegant way, the three orchestral songs and the orchestral work Rage from the opera Adriana made for a terrifying, dark-toned depiction of existence. With the Finnish mezzo Lilli Paasikivi’s velvety soft sadness as a guide – and her unusually solid voice without many chinks of light or hope – the music told the story of the mother and her son born of a rape. The drama began with unrelenting existential confrontations with music in visions of refined decay, Paasikivi’s simple singing voice winding up, down and around the words like shawl of sadness. And it ended in thoughtful human rejection of revenge: “this man deserved to die, but you, my son, did not deserve to be killed.” Full-on sounds with extra relevance in a world of terror and war that put a lump in the throat – where, despite its violent nature, it remains.

(Henrik Friis, Politiken 7 May 2011)


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