Composer gives $1.2 million to her local concert hall

Composer gives $1.2 million to her local concert hall


norman lebrecht

December 11, 2017

The Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho has offered one million Euros to the Helsinki Music Centre.

Her one condition is that the hall instals an organ.

A decision is being announced this morning. We think the answer is yes, thank you very much.


  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Where does a composer get that type of money? All of the ones I’ve known have been poor.

    • been here before says:

      Exactly the same question I wanted to ask. Unless she was born or married into money.

      • mathias broucek says:

        Astonishing! Mind you, the classical industry is one of the least egalitarian in the world for pay practices so it’s possible there are 10 or so multimillionair composers with the rest starving….

    • Andreas Carpen says:

      The donation is specifically for building and installing an organ, which the Helsinki Music Centre currently lacks due to insufficient funds when the hall originally built. The fact that the Finnish premiere of Saariaho’s Maan varjot for organ and orchestra was absurdly performed using a digital organ may have played a role in her decision. A number of Finnish foundations have also announced their support for the project and so far a total sum of 2.7MEur has been raised.

    • Bruce says:

      “Where does a composer get that type of money? All of the ones I’ve known have been poor.”

      LOL. Maybe she’s not like the composers you’ve known.

      (Srsly though, she’s one of the two or three most famous composers alive, and may have earned this amount from prizes alone over the past few years.)

    • Anne says:

      Without question, Kaija made an extremely generous donation. The interest of where she gets her money from is legitimate. Most people are not independently wealthy. It is important to know for society’s sake. We should not have a world where only the rich can become artists. There are many composer who must work at jobs so they can live with some sense of dignity. Some are great but don’t have time to grow and reach their potential. I know Kaija. She has never had to work at a job like the rest of us. She does not teach. In the US we have composers like that too. But, what disturbs me is that we, as a culture, (at least here in the US) do not use our human resources well. It is a tragedy — lives wasted. Sorry to be so glum.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Perhaps she is Satoshi Namamoto…?

  • Candace Allen says:

    Why the mean-spirited responses to such generosity? She has the resources and is sharing with the institution that helped nurture her. Really, y’all need to get into the spirit of the season and take a chill pill.

    • David says:

      Thank you, Candace, for restoring my faith a bit after the ridiculous comments above. Saariaho is a talented and accomplished composer, we can add “generous” to her accomplishments. Good for her, good for them.

    • been here before says:

      No malice, just wondering. I know several successful and performed composers – most of the time they keep complaining how little get paid for their work. Happy for her and for the concert hall.

    • MacroV says:

      It’s not mean-spirited. People are just wondering whether there is any classical composer who is able to earn enough to have the means to make such a large gift. If she does, great. But it looks like it was from an inheritance. Still a wonderful gesture.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The half-serious composer Louis Andriessen earned lots of money from the Dutch state subsidy foundation for his ‘protest music’ against the Bad Taste of Bourgeois Society which still performs old pieces as if they were any good. His state-supported stance against musical culture made it possible for him to live on one of the most elite Amsterdam canals, heart of traditional Dutch wealth with its history of trading in spices and African slaves. In Holland, he is celebrated as a monument of the local garden gnome culture.

        • Melisande says:

          Seriously: Quite a sour observation about the Dutch subsidy to the ‘half-serious’ composer Louis Andriessen.
          Regarding the donation by the Finnish composer Saariaho: she was awarded as follows:
          2003: the Grawemeyer Award – $ 100.000,-
          2011: the Danish Sonning Music Prize – $ 100.000,-
          2013: the Finnish Polar Music Prize – 98.600,- English pounds.
          A great sign of ‘noblesse oblige’ by a serious composer whose opera L’amour the loin shows fabulously what she is capable of.

          • Mikko says:

            For the record, the Polar Music Prize is Swedish. Saariaho did win a Finnish prize of EUR 100 000, named after Sibelius, from the Wihuri foundation in 2009.

  • Jaakko Haapaniemi says:

    According to Helsingin Sanomat Kaija Saariaho inherited her father’s business with her sister. They sold it earlier this year and Mrs Saariaho donated her share (or part of it) to the Helsinki Music Centre.

    • John Borstlap says:

      For serious composers, it is of fundamental importance to choose your parents carefully.

      • Mikko says:

        In Saariaho’s case, the correctness of her choice was not immediately obvious. She lived in an one-bedroom apartment with her family before her father’s business took off.

  • Charles Clark Maxwell says:

    Ms Saariaho made an amusing comment, picked up the other year on SD “As a Finnish, left-handed woman composer I represent several minorities..”

  • Christopher Culver says:

    I am happy to hear this news. The acoustics in Musiikkitalo are phenomenal, but the lack of an organ has really limited the repertoire that can be performed there.

  • Eric says:

    If this is a UK-based blog, and she has gifted a million Euros, why is the headline converted to US dollars?

  • lutz says:

    We are searching for Composers In Cape Town……,! we need to upGrade our concert hall, and engage decent conductors and managers.

  • Mikko says:

    I suspect inheritance has something to do with this. Saariaho’s father, Launo Laakkonen, became a successful entrepreneur and donated to the arts himself. The family also moved to a posh area in Helsinki, and I would imagine that any real estate there has gone up in value by a lot.

  • Trautalert says:

    How wonderful a gift by a generous and extremely talented woman.

  • John Borstlap says:

    This millionaire writes the usual, by now very conventional easy-listening stuff that people who love the idea of progress for its own sake relate to ‘modernity’:

    It is all the same morbid, threatening, lugubre and / or confused horror movie sound track, well-done, and with an extra dosis of pretension to get the ‘cosmic’ component hammered-in. To avoid the impression that female composers prefer the homely pleasures of child bearing and housekeeping, in their effort to counter gender discrimination, such women try to be more ‘hard-edge’ and aggressive than the male competition (Haas, Xenakis, etc.) and thus indulge more than could be healthy in the pool of sinister sound art. And it is much appreciated: such ‘music’ becomes a symbol of happy equality, joyful artistic freedom, and extatic celebration of modernity.

    What will future anthropologists think of such craziness – that is, if there will be future generations with still a residu of aesthetic perception? Would they recognize the psychopathological nature of such contributions and its institutional approval?

    • Been Here Before says:

      Come on John… as a modernist composer she could be much worse. Not impressive, but not that bad either. Just imagine if she were a millionaire and wrote like Boulez!

      • John Borstlap says:

        Well…. just listen to what the ‘music’ says…. it is not a matter of taste, but the reality of the thing: ‘music’ like geological processes, the lowest form of existence on the planet, without life of its own.

  • Just a Finn says:

    Amusing to read the difference in reaction between American or English readers and the comments of the original announcement in the Finnish paper.
    Finns are nothing but thankful for the act of generosity showed by Saariaho when most people here discuss the origin of the money or apparently think you cannot be a serious artist if you have money. The only “negative” comment read in Finland at the moment was someone wondering why one should pay 4M euros for an organ.

    For those who are worried about where the money came from, as someone wrote above, Helsingin Sanomat wrote the money came from the sale of her father’s business in Finland (btw, a self-made man). A business she had to manage with her sister for many years until it just became too difficult. Many people would have used that money to buy a sports car or a beach house or two, but she decided to give it back to the cultural society of her own country. I’d say that’s quite generous. Such a great hall deserves a good organ (as it originally was intended), so much (yes, so much!) repertoire has been left out up until now! Apparently, none of the wealthy sponsors (multi-million companies) have even bothered to match her contribution.
    She also used to be an organist, which I guess makes this a cause close to her heart. And then, why does it concern us what she does with her money, or how much money she has (if she does have some, good for her?), especially when she is doing something good with it. Why do people think they can allow themselves to be so judgemental?

    And also: Saariaho isn’t just any other composer. Like her music or not, you cannot deny she is one of the few “contemporary” composers you can listen to and instantly recognize her style, which kind of is the dream of any composer I think, so I’d say that’s quite an accomplishment in itself, to name only one thing.

    Why irradiate the web with such negativity!

    • Melisande says:

      # I completely agree with Just a Finn! Musical taste differs, but being cynical and or envious and showing off your musical ‘knowlegde’ are not relevant. It is a great gesture.

  • John Borstlap says:

    For people who think that this lady is a real composer, it is wholeheartedly recommended to check one’s ears with her ‘violin concerto’. It is sound art which makes use of real musical intervals, but without using them as music. The ear which is used to music (which consists of intervals and their interplay) picks-up the intervals and tries automatically to make sense of them in some coherence, but it is continuously frustrated.

    Wagner described the superficial imitation music of Meyerbeer as ‘Effects without causes’ and that is exactly what this ‘concerto’ demonstrates: nothing happens with some purpose, not even suggested in the background, it is entirely random, they are mere acoustical events separated from any meaning – aesthetic or psychological meaning, not to speak of musical meaning. Because it is closer to music than for instance, Xenakis, it is much more irritating to listen to, while Xenakis is right-in-your-face nonsensical ugliness-as-objective-process which you can easily resist as music.

    I think that people who listen to this as music, hear it in the same way as a cat or dog listens to Beethoven: purely acoustically.

  • Janne Seppänen says:

    I’m really happy about this! It’ll be great to have a good organ in the hall. Looking forward to it…

    As it happens, I’m going to hear the Finnish premiere of Saariaho’s composition True Fire for baritone and orchestra tomorrow. Can’t wait!