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Composer Kaija Saariaho dies of brain tumor at 70

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Kaija Saariaho, whose widely acclaimed work made her one of the 21st century’s preeminent composers, died Friday. She is 70 years old.

Saariaho died in his Paris apartment, Her family said in a statement Posted on her Facebook page. She was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive and incurable brain tumor, in February 2021.

“The proliferating tumor did not affect her cognitive abilities until the advanced stage of the disease,” the statement said. Saariaho received the experimental treatment at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, her family said.

“The way Kaija was in a wheelchair or walking with a cane raised a lot of questions that she had difficulty answering,” the family said. “Following the advice of her doctor, she kept her condition under wraps in order to stay positive and focus on work.”

Her “L’Amour de Loin (Love From Away)” premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2000 and made her US debut two years later at the Santa Fe Opera. In 2016, it became the first stage work by a woman composer Performed at the Metropolitan Opera since 1903 with Ethel M. Smyth’s Der Wald.

“She is one of the most original voices and has achieved great success,” said Met general manager Peter Gelb. “It has an effect on a person both intellectually and emotionally. It’s the music that really moves. She’s truly one of the greatest artists.”

Saariaho doesn’t like to be thought of as a woman composer, but as a woman who is a composer.

“I don’t even want to talk about it,” she told The Associated Press after a piano rehearsal at the Met. “It should be a disgrace.”

Born in Helsinki in October. On 14th 1952, Sariajo enrolled at the Sibelius Academy of Music and Freiburg High School of Music. She helped form the Finnish band Ears Open in the 1970s.

“The problem with Finland in the 1970s and 80s was that it was very closed,” she told NPR last year. “My generation feels like we have no place and no interest in our music — and more generally, people hear very little modern music.”

Saariaho started working in Paris in 1982 at the Institute for Research and Harmonization of Acoustics/Music (IRCAM), a contemporary music center founded by Pierre Boulez in the 1970s. She incorporates electronics into her compositions.

“I’m interested in spatialization, but only if it’s not applied for no reason,” In a talk in 2014, she said posted on her website. “It had to be necessary – just as material and form had to be organically linked.

Inspired by watching Messiaen’s “St. Francois d’Assise” at the Salzburg Festival in 1992, she wrote “L’Amour de Loin”. She went on to write Adriana Mater, which premiered at the Opera Bastille in 2006, and Émilie, which premiered at the Opera de Lyon in 2010.

Her latest opera, Innocence, will premiere at the 2021 Aix-en-Provence Festival. The work, which focuses on gun violence, was staged in London this spring and is scheduled to be on display at the Met through 2025-26.

“This is certainly the work of a mature master who has commanded her resources so thoroughly that she can concentrate on telling a story and illuminating characters,” wrote Zachary Woolf in The New York Times.

Saariaho received the University of Louisville’s Grawemeyer Award in 2003 and was named Musical America’s Musician of the Year in 2008. Kent Nagano’s recording of “L’Amour de Loin” won a 2011 Grammy Award.

Saariaho’s last work is a trumpet concerto entitled “HUSH”, which will premiere in Helsinki on August 24 with Susanna Mälkki leading the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Saariaho’s death was announced by her husband, composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière; son Aleksi Barrière, writer; and daughter Aliisa Neige Barrière, conductor and violinist.

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