Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952) is a prominent member of a group of Finnish composers and performers who are now, in mid-career, making a worldwide impact. She studied at the Sibelius Academy and there, with the pioneering modernist Paavo Heininen, Magnus Lindberg and others, she founded the progressive ‘Ears Open’ group. She continued her studies in Freiburg and, from 1982, at the IRCAM research institute in Paris – the city which has been most of the time her home ever since. At IRCAM, Saariaho developed techniques of computer-assisted composition and acquired fluency in working on tape and with live electronics. This experience influenced her approach to writing for orchestra, with its emphasis on the shaping of dense masses of sound in slow transformations.
Before coming to work at IRCAM, Saariaho learned to know the French ‘spectralist’ composers, whose techniques are based on computer analysis of the sound-spectrum. This analytical approach inspired her to develop her own method for creating harmonic structures, as well as the detailed notation using harmonics, microtonaly and detailed continuum of sound extending from pure tone to unpitched noise – all features found in one of her most frequently performed works, Graal théâtre for violin and orchestra or ensemble (1994/97). Later Saariaho has turned to opera, with outstanding success.
Saariaho has claimed the major composing awards in The Grawemeyer Award, The Wihuri Prize, The Nemmers Prize and in 2011 was awarded The Sonning Prize. In May 2013, Saariaho was awarded the Polar Music Prize. In 2015 she will be the judge of the Toru Takemitsu Composition Award.