Kaija Saariaho, a 21st-century composer, died Friday. She was 70.
Saariaho died in her Paris flat, her relatives confirmed on Facebook. In February 2021, she was diagnosed with severe, incurable glioblastoma.
The statement added the expanding tumors didn’t damage her cognitive abilities till the end. Her relatives stated Paris’ Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital treated Saariaho experimentally.
The family reported Kaija’s wheelchair or cane look raised numerous queries, which she answered elusively. “To stay positive and focused on her work, she kept her illness a private matter, following her doctor’s advice.”
Her 2000 Salzburg Festival premiere of “L’Amour de Loin (Love from Afar)” was followed by a 2002 Santa Fe Opera premiere. Since Ethel M. Smyth’s “Der Wald” in 1903, the Metropolitan Opera performed a female composer’s work in 2016.
“She was one of the most original voices and enjoyed enormous success,” Met general manager Peter Gelb said. It affected emotions and intelligence. It’s heartfelt music. She was an amazing artist.”
Saariaho wished to be known as a lady who composed.
She told The Associated Press after a Met piano rehearsal that she didn’t want to talk about it. “It’s shameful.”
Saariaho attended the Sibelius Academy and Hochschule für Musik Freiburg. She co-founded Korvat auki (Ears Open) in the 1970s.
Last year, she told NPR that Finland was closed in the 1970s and 1980s. “My generation felt there was no place for us and no interest in our music—and more generally, modern music was heard much less.”
In 1982, Saariaho joined Pierre Boulez’s IRCAM, a contemporary music institution in Paris. She used electronics.
“I am interested in spatialization, but not gratuitously,” she remarked in a 2014 interview on her website. “It must be necessary—like material and form must be organically linked.”
She wrote “L’Amour de Loin” after seeing Messiaen’s “St. Francois d’Assise” at the 1992 Salzburg Festival. She wrote “Adriana Mater” for the Opéra Bastille in 2006 and “Émilie” for the Lyon Opéra in 2010.
The 2021 Aix-en-Provence Festival premiered “Innocence,” her latest opera. The Met’s 2025-26 season will feature the spring London production, which focused on gun violence.
“This is undoubtedly the work of a mature master, in such full command of her resources that she can focus simply on telling a story and illuminating characters,” Zachary Woolfe said in The New York Times.
Saariaho won Musical America’s Musician of the Year in 2008 and Louisville’s 2003 Grawemeyer Award. Kent Nagano’s “L’Amour de Loin” received a 2011 Grammy.
Susanna Mälkki will conduct the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Saariaho’s final trumpet concerto, “HUSH,” on August 24 in Helsinki.
Her husband, composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière, son Aleksi, a writer, and daughter Aliisa Neige, a conductor and violinist, announced Saariaho’s death.