Renowned Composer Kaija Saariaho Succumbs to Brain Tumor at 70!

Kaija Saariaho passed away on Friday. She was one of the most well-known composers of the twenty-first century because of her critically lauded pieces. She was 70 years old.

According to her family’s statement on her Facebook page, Saariaho passed away in her Paris residence. Her malignant and uncurable brain tumor, glioblastoma, had been identified in February 2021.

The statement read, “The multiplying tumors did not affect her cognitive facilities until the terminal phase of her illness.”  According to her relatives, Saariaho received experimental medical care at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris.

The family claimed “Kaija’s appearance in a wheelchair or walking with a cane have prompted many questions, to which she answered elusively.”

“Following her physician’s advice, she kept her illness a private matter, in order to maintain a positive mindset and keep the focus of her work.”

Her opera “L’Amour de Loin (Love from Afar)” premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2000 before making its American debut at the Santa Fe Opera two years later. Since Ethel M. Smyth’s “Der Wald” in 1903 was the first staged piece by a female composer at the Metropolitan Opera as of 2016.

Renowned Composer Kaija Saariaho Succumbs to Brain Tumor at 70

Met general manager Peter Gelb said, “She was one of the most original voices and enjoyed enormous success.” “It had impact on one’s intellect as well as one’s emotions. It was music that really moves people’s hearts. She was truly one of the great, great artists.”

Saariaho preferred to be referred to as a woman who was a composer rather than a female composer. During an interview following a piano rehearsal at the Met, she said, “I would not even like to speak about it.” It ought to be regrettable.

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Saariaho, born on October 14, 1952, in Helsinki, was educated at the Freiburg Hochschule für Musik and the Sibelius Academy. In the 1970s, she contributed to founding the Finnish band Korvat auki (Ears Open).

She previously told, “The problem in Finland in the 1970s and ’80s was that it was very closed.”  “My generation felt that there was no place for us and no interest in our music — and more generally, modern music was heard much less.”

The Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music (IRCAM), a hub for modern music established in the 1970s by Pierre Boulez, hired Saariaho as a staff member in 1982. She used electronic components in her composition.

In a chat from 2014 that was posted on her website, she stated, “I am interested in spatialization, but under the condition that it’s not applied gratuitously. “It has to be necessary — in the same way that material and form must be linked together organically.” 

Recently, The Globe and Mail shared a Tweet related to the Kaija Saariaho dying at the age of 70:

She was inspired to write “L’Amour de Loin” after hearing Messiaen’s “St. Francois d’Assise” during the 1992 Salzburg Festival. She later wrote “Adriana Mater,” which had its world premiere at the Opéra Bastille in 2006, and “Émilie,” which had its world premiere at the Lyon Opéra in 2010.

Her most recent opera, “Innocence,” premiere occurred during the 2021 Aix-en-Provence Festival. The work, which sheds light on gun violence, was presented in London this spring and is slated for the 2025–2026 Met season.

Zachary Woolfe stated in The New York Times, “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.”

In 2003, Saariaho won the Grawemeyer Award from the University of Louisville, and in 2008, he was named Musical America’s Musician of the Year. 2011 Grammy Award winner for “L’Amour de Loin” by Kent Nagano.

Susanna Mälkki will direct the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra for the world premiere of Saariaho’s final composition, a trumpet concerto named “HUSH,” on August 24 in Helsinki.

Her husband, composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière, her son Aleksi Barrière, a writer, and her daughter Aliisa Neige Barrière, a conductor and violinist, all publicized the news of Saariaho’s passing on social media.

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