Kaija Saariaho, Pathbreaking Composer, Is Dead at 70

Kaija Saariaho, a Finnish composer who was brought up in the world of male-dominated high modernism but who broke away to forge an identity of her own, becoming the first woman to have more than one work of hers staged by the Metropolitan Opera, died on Friday at her home in Paris. She was 70.

She had been diagnosed with brain cancer in 2021, said her publisher, Wise Music Classical, which confirmed the death.

Ms. Saariaho brought new and often mysterious colors to classical music.

In Paris, where she had settled permanently, she experimented with tape and live electronics, which she applied to nearly every form in classical music: works for solo instrument and small ensemble, and for symphony orchestra and opera. Over the years she rose to the top of her field, a slow-changing industry that only in recent years has made steps to correct the repertoire’s gender imbalances.

Her first opera, “L’Amour de Loin,” which premiered at the Salzburg Festival in Austria in 2000 and came to the Met in 2016, won the Grawemeyer Award for music composition. Her most recent entry into that genre, “Innocence,” debuted at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France in 2021 and will travel to the Met in the 2025-26 season.

When the Met joined the work’s list of commissioners, Ms. Saariaho in turn joined a select group of living composers to have a second opera mounted by that house — and the only woman to gain that distinction.

Kaija Saariaho was born on Oct. 14, 1952, in Helsinki. She studied at the storied Sibelius Academy there, and was a pioneering impresario of contemporary music, forming the group Open Ears with fellow young artists. She left to continue her education in Freiburg, Germany, with summer courses taken in the modernist hotbed of Darmstadt. She moved to Paris in 1982 to finish her studies at IRCAM, the institute founded by Pierre Boulez.

A complete obituary will appear soon.

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