Interview: Kaaija Saariaho

Kaaija Saariaho large

(Photo credit: Priska Ketterer)

Kaaija Saariaho’s music is entrancing – sometimes disorienting. It’s lyrical and colorful. It often combines intricate textures with electronic elements, that can be delicate and ethereal or just loud and thick. Performances of her music have been steadily growing throughout the United States since the early 2000s, and earlier this year the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with Gustavo Dudamel and baritone Gerald Finley, commissioned and premiered her song cycle “True Fire.” In March of 2016 the Dutch National Opera will premiere her next opera “Only the Sound Remains.”

Saariaho’s work earned the admiration from audiences and critics, and she’s been the recipient of major prizes including the Polar Music Prize in 2013, the Nemmers Prize in 2011, and in 2003 the Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition for her opera “L’amour de loin,” an opera Anthony Tomassini of the New York Times named best new work of 2000. She is in Louisville as a guest for the 30th Anniversary of the Grawemeyer Award and sat down with Daniel Gilliam to talk about her career and music.


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