Musicians shed tears for Kaija Saariaho

Musicians shed tears for Kaija Saariaho


norman lebrecht

June 02, 2023

Some first responses to the tragic death of a great composer.

Conductor Hannu Lintu: It’s difficult to imagine anyone who has changed the direction of contemporary music more than Kaija. The sounds and multiple universes she created have opened new perspectives for her fellow composers and for those who perform her music.
I learned so much from her. The next discussion was scheduled but never happened.
Our thoughts are with Jean-Baptiste, Aliisa and Aleksi. Their loss is the greatest.

Composer Gloria Cheng: The only words I can think of for her are grace, beauty, radiance.

Harpsichordist Leslie Kwan: She had the best laugh, the kindest smile, best humor, and an incredible host. Our world was made better because of her singular dedication to making music on her own terms. Paris won’t be the same.

Composer Chris Cerrone: Very, very gutted about the passing of Kaija Saariaho. Her work is important, from huge works like ‘Innocence’ and ‘Amour de Loin’ to miniatures like ‘Sept Papillons’ and her pioneering electroacoustic pieces like ‘Six Japanese Gardens’ and ‘Nymphea.’ I once was able to have a lesson with her too, which I found profound. She was a wise and spectral presence and would take a very long time to answer a question. But what she eventually said has long stayed with me.

Composer Benjamin Beckman: I vividly remember my amazement as a sixteen-year-old hearing her ‘Sept Papillons’ for the first time – it was the first time i encountered a number of extended techniques for string instruments, packaged in stunningly beautiful and elegant miniatures; and her opera L’Amour de Loin – a true masterpiece of contemporary opera and vocal writing that is spellbinding from top to bottom – was a massive force in my initial interest in contemporary opera and vocal writing.
i also remember her being simply the nicest person, getting the chance to meet her at a masterclass with the @laphil’s composer fellowship program when i was a senior in high school. after the masterclass i accosted her with a barrage of questions about her career and her music – she stayed around for what must have been twenty or so minutes after the class to talk with me, and signed my notebook. some high school kids dream about meeting taylor swift or justin timberlake – this was my celebrity meeting! she could not have been more kind and gracious.

Organist Petur Sakari: Extremely sorry to hear about Kaija Saariaho’s passing. We have lost one of the greatest composers of our time, a true supporter and extraordinary person. Unfortunately she didn’t hear (“her”) the new organ at the Musiikkitalo which will be completed this year…Rest in piece. My deepest condolations to relatives, friends and colleagues. I am never going to forget her supportative & collegial attitude. Kaija’s music will stay with us all.

BBC Symphony Orchestra: We are deeply sorry to hear of the death of Kaija Saariaho. An extraordinary composer with whom we have been fortunate to work over many years, including our recent day-long celebration of her music. She will be very sadly missed.

Orchestre de Paris: C’est avec une immense tristesse que nous apprenons le décès de la compositrice Kaija Saariaho avec qui nous avons partagé tant de magnifiques moments musicaux. Nos pensées vont à ses proches et à sa famille.

Royal Opera House: Her recent and most extraordinary opera Innocence, which performed only weeks ago at the Royal Opera House, was – for all who experienced it – one of the most shattering and moving evenings in the theatre.


  • No says:

    Where’s Igor Levit to tell us he “cried all day”? Seems to happen fairly regularly.

  • Roman Kozak says:

    What a loss to contemporary music.

  • trumpetherald says:

    Very sad…..One of the greatest composers,not just of our times…..Listening to her Passion of Simone right now,and thinking of her passion,and the passion of my sister,who was taken from us by the very same disease 14 years ago,aged 44…….

    • Viola Jane says:

      You have my empathy. I loved Kaija Saariaho’s work (many years ago now I wrote my Masters thesis on her violin concerto Graal Théâtre) and am deeply saddened at the news of her death – all the more painful and poignant having lost my beautiful daughter Cleo to brain cancer – a glioblastoma. She was only 10 years old. It should be her 15th birthday tomorrow. A cure can’t wait.

  • Una says:

    What a loss. Only came down from Leeds to see her amazing opera Innocence a few weeks ago. May she rest in peace.

  • Rob says:

    Tremendous loss to music.

  • Stephen L Pushor says:

    I mourn Kaija’s passing she was my favorite composer, I have all her CD’s – Her music was beautiful, she will go down as the greatest composer of this era. Her opera’s, chamber music, everything she composed was “Laterna Magica”.

  • soavemusica says:

    “Our thoughts are with…”. No prayers?

    The hype of contemporary music always fills the obituaries, but who remembers, or still performs, Eino-Juhani Rautavaara? The life span seems limited.

    • Andreas C. says:

      Among others Mikko Franck and Hannu Lintu, wherever they happen to be that week, and Finnish and international choirs who have the skills to tackle Rautavaara’s choral works (which are very idiomatically written and many, but not all, of which are suitable for skilled amateurs). Olli Mustonen also just made a characteristically spicy recording of his third piano concerto.

    • Tired oboist says:

      Rautavaara is so underrated!! I agree with you totally. The whole “thoughts and prayers” is meaningless, we all know it. Why do we not value people’s work and actually say something meaningful for once?

  • Alexis Hauser says:

    A terrible loss to the entire music world! One of the greatest, profoundest composers, not only of our time. I had the honour to conduct “Laterna Magica” in Kaija Saariaho’s presence in Montréal when she received the
    honorary doctorate of the McGill University.
    R.I.P. Kaija! Your music will live on for sure, that is a big consolation in this sadness.