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Biennale Musica 2021

Kaija Saariaho

Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement

Award ceremony

Friday 17 September 2021, 12:00 noon
Ca’ Giustinian, Venice

Kaija Saariaho

La Biennale di Venezia will present the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement to the composer Kaija Saariaho.

The Finnish composer obtains the acknowledgement “for the remarkable technical and expressive level she has achieved in her choral scores and for her original use of the voice”. Inauguration day on September 17th will be dedicated to Kaija Saariaho, featuring the award ceremony for the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement (Ca’ Giustinian, at 12 noon) and the opening concert performed by the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice in Venice conducted by Ernest Martinez-Isquierdo (Teatro La Fenice, at 8 pm). The programme includes the Italian premiere performance of Oltra Mar, for chorus and orchestra, composed by Kaija Saariaho in 1999 and the Italian premiere performance of an orchestral work by Hans Abrahamsen written in 2011 and based on the orchestration of Claude Debussy’s Children’s Corner.

As the motivation for the award reads: “As part of her vast production for voice, vocal ensemble and chorus, Kaija Saariaho will be awarded the Golden Lion for Oltra mar in particular, considered an absolute masterpiece. Oltra mar, which in ancient French means ‘across the sea’, is a harmonically complex but transparent composition, and a synthesis of unusual metamorphic orchestral colours influenced by Impressionism”. “One of the major living composers whose works are among the most widely performed in the world – continues the motivation – Kaija Saariaho’s music has the gift of power and immediacy and generates original acoustic tapestries and unprecedented sonic narrations”.

Biographical notes

Kaija Saariaho is a prominent member of a group of Finnish composers and performers who are now, in mid-career, making a worldwide impact. She studied composition in Helsinki, Freiburg and Paris, where she has lived since 1982. Her studies and research at IRCAM have had a major influence on her music and her characteristically luxuriant and mysterious textures are often created by combining live music and electronics.

Although much of her catalogue comprises chamber works, from the mid-nineties she has turned increasingly to larger forces and broader structures, such as the operas L’Amour de Loin, Adriana Mater and Emilie. Around the operas there have been other vocal works, notably the ravishing Château de l’âme (1996), Oltra mar (1999), Quatre instants (2002), True Fire (2014). The oratorio La Passion de Simone, portraying the life and death of the philosopher Simone Weil, formed part of Sellars’s international festival ‘New Crowned Hope’ in 2006/07. The chamber version of the oratorio was premiered by La Chambre aux echos at the Bratislava Melos Ethos Festival in 2013.

Saariaho has claimed the major composing awards in the Grawemeyer Award, the Wihuri Prize, the Nemmers Prize, the Sonning Prize and the Polar Music Prize. In 2018 she was honoured with the BBVA Foundation’s Frontiers of Knowledge Award. In 2015 she was the judge of the Toru Takemitsu Composition Award. Always keen on strong educational programmes, Kaija Saariaho was the music mentor of the 2014-15 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative and was in residence at U.C. Berkeley Music Department in 2015.

Saariaho continues to collaborate for the stage. Only The Sound Remains, her most recent opera collaboration with Peter Sellars, was premiered in Amsterdam in 2016. In the same year her first opera L'Amour de Loin was presented in its New York premiere by the Metropolitan Opera in a new production by Robert Le Page. The Park Avenue Armory and New York Philharmonic presented a celebration of her orchestral music with visual accompaniment. February 2017 saw Paris come alive with her work when she was the featured composer of Radio France Festival Présences.

Her new opera, Innocence, will be premiered in July 2021 at Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence.

Biennale Musica
Biennale Musica