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Kaija Saariaho 1952–2023

Kaija Saariaho Musiikin ajassa 2019 Sami Sorasalmen kuvaamana.

The premature passing of composer and Academician Kaija Saariaho is a tremendous loss, not only to her close ones but also to the whole Finnish and international music audience; it is a loss that we will be mourning for a long time. I remember well how in spring 2018 we began to talk with Kaija about her teaching at the composition course of Time of Music 2019, and that we would do a larger presentation of her work that summer. She was then amidst composing her opera Innocence, which had difficult themes, and in summer 2019 her calendar would be more empty. We knew that the calendar would presumably fill again for her 70th anniversary in 2022, and likewise the premiere of Innocence was scheduled for the summer of 2020. We therefore concluded that it would be wise to make the visit already in summer 2019, as it was such a long time from Kaija’s last visit to Viitasaari in 1994 – and this time the whole family could come along. In retrospect, this decision seems to have been the wisest one of the last few years. We often talked with Kaija how marvelous the whole experience had been for us all.

Saariaho was always interested in the young generation and even last fall, at her own celebrations, she wanted to support the next generations. Her public statements regarding the music life were always ethically strong. Her discussions on the politics of art, education and music were conscious in a way that one would expect from an Academician. They oblige the generations that follow.

The works by Henze, Cage and others performed at this year’s festival concentrate on the questions of social awareness from the 1970s onwards. This was the time when Saariaho and the young Korvat auki (Ears open) community were building their own values, although the style and means of expression of the men in question were rather different from Kaija’s. Time of Music got to take part in this journey of awareness when we were allowed to premiere Saariaho’s first stage work Study for Life in its new version at the 2019 festival. This work is based on T. S. Eliot’s famous poem The Hollow Men that is critical to the society’s loss of moral compass during Eliot’s time.

Last year we spoke a couple of times with Kaija about our big Voices project that in a way is linked to these same questions. She was interested in the advancement of this project just like she was always interested in the future of the festival and in the summer courses for young generations. In the song cycle, Henze has dedicated each song to an important and close person to him. Time of Music wants to continue this beautiful tradition and will dedicate the 2023 festival to the memory of Kaija Saariaho.

Johan Tallgren, Artistic director