Kaija Saariaho finishes her 4th opera

Kaija Saariaho finishes her 4th opera


norman lebrecht

September 03, 2018

We hear the Paris-based Finnish composer put the finishing touches this weekend to her next opera.

Titled ‘Innocence’, it is scheduled to premiere in July 2020 at the Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence, with Simon Stone as stage director and Susanna Malkki conducting.


  • Basia Jaworski says:

    Very interesting. She is a really great composer, her L’Amour de Loin’ is among my favorites.


    • John Borstlap says:

      A lyric sort of sonic art, well-made (plenty of colourful dissonance = ‘modern’), borrowing gestures from music, and – with infinite pleasure – indulging in morbid and aggressive horror, as is customary with this aesthetic. The fifties and sixties of the last century offered a wealth of material representing their gruesome worldview which became established convention.

      It is great that a woman gets such chances and the attached money, but it is also a symbol encouraging wider feminine horror in music life, which does not seem to me to do the feminist liberation in culture any true favour. And then, harking back to cultural ideas of the past is a good thing, but why exactly to the most awful and flawed ideas? and most unmusical ones? It is part of the attempt to freeze the notion of ‘progress’, as it confused the minds half a century ago, for eternity, as if there were only one form of progress, which is then turned into something static and restricted.

      • Jean says:

        Kaija Saariaho considers herself as a composer, not a womam composer. She would hate to take part in this discussion.

        • John Borstlap says:

          OK, but the rest of the argument still stands – why such oldfashioned ugliness?

          • msc says:

            Some of us don’t necessarily find it ugly, or at least don’t see more than fleeting, emphatic moments of ugliness. Anyway, ugliness can be a legitimate tool: see Bosch, Grunewald’s Isenheim altarpiece, etc. It’s a matter of degrees, admittedly. I can’t see the point in much of someone like Bacon’s ugliness.

        • william osborne says:

          Of course she is just a composer, but it would be nice if we lived in such an ideal world that we did not need to take note that she is a woman and thus still far too much of an anomaly. When we speak about women composers it is often exactly with the intent of making that point as a statement of advocacy. It isn’t particular helpful if some try to pretend it’s not an issue while many others are doing the work that has helped pave the way for twomen to even be able to obtain high status positions. In fact, her high status is all the more reason she should help with this work, especially given the privilege she has, and especially in France where women composers are less common than in several other countries. In short, let’s not get too precious with our gender neutrality.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    The (un)Holy Grail of the Spectral Movement, essential to “understand” Kaja Saariaho’s sonic art:


    • John Borstlap says:

      When patterns of instrumental colour are replacing everything else, their function as a means for something else disappears. If compared with the instrumentations of, for instance, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, such patterns are expremely poor – not judged as music or even as sound art, but simply as aural experience. With the mentioned composers, refined instrumentation is always a means for a musical effect, as part of an expressive intention.

      There is much concept art in this ‘progressive’ vein, which is there not for the onlooker or for the world with a ‘message’, or with an aesthetic intention, but simply as an object that ‘is’, of and for itself, like a lonely rock in the desert. That quality of isolation from human concerns characterizes also much of sound art. It seems to me that only the beauty of such patterns can justify their existence as a cultural product, like Morton Feldman’s.

  • SoD says:

    Saariaho has written four operas already:

    – L’Amour de loin (premiere 2000)
    – Adriana Mater (2006)
    – Émilie (2010)
    – Only The Sound Remains (2016)

    So Innocence will be her 5th opera, not her 4th as the headline claims.

    That being said, this is happy news indeed! Saariaho is one of my favourite contemporary composers, and I’m not saying that only because I’m Finnish like her. L’Amour de loin is absolutely stunning, I was completely blown away when I first heard the harmonia mundi recording. I love her many concertos and orchestral works. Her chamber output is quite wonderful as well. So any new works are a welcome addition to the repertoire!

    • Christopher Culver says:

      In spite of being a staged work, Émile has only a single singer and so people may not readily think of it as an opera. I had to actually check the IRCAM Brahms database to see if it was officially catalogued as an opera.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Depends how you define opera. One of these is a concert work.

      • SoD says:

        I was living under the impression that Saariaho herself defines all four as operas. If I’m wrong, I readily admit my mistake! Not trying to have an argument here at all. In any case, I’m very happy for these news and looking forward to hearing the new work.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I’m so happy for you. I think particularly the title ‘Only the sound remains’ is appropriate for her general approach, and for the people who really enjoy this stuff.

  • CYM says:

    A Finnish composer finishes her 4th opera … Quite interesting !!!

    • John Borstlap says:

      My guess is that the Finnish enthusiasm for ‘opera’ is for a special kind: the introvert, modernist thing, that drills deep into the instinctive layers where ultimate disgust of life shimmers in multicoloured patterns.

  • Hilary says:

    Finland has been found to be the happiest country on earth :https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-43414145