Creative Dialogue: Kaija Saariaho

The Creative Dialogue workshop to be held in 2015 for the seventh time has been a success story gathering together young composers and musicians since 2008. Its aim is to foster creative dialogue that will benefit and inspire both parties and the field of music in general.

The workshop and its execution serve as a fitting introduction to the whole Musica nova Helsinki theme for 2015: Dialogues.

So far, Creative Dialogue workshops have been held six times at Santa Fe in the United States, and the seventh is scheduled for Kallio-Kuninkala at Järvenpää, Finland in January–February 2015. The leaders will be Kaija Saariaho, Anssi Karttunen and pianist Tuija Hakkila. The participants have been invited from top conservatories in Europe and the United States.

Kaija Saariaho was already involved in the first workshop, in 2008. She has also taught elsewhere, but mainly only for limited periods – usually a masterclass lasting a week or two. What sorts of things can be taught in composition?

 “In composition, as in any demanding job (playing the violin, cooking, sprinting), you can teach technical skills, though you’ll find natural talents in this sense in any field.

“As a composer you have to know how to do so many things, be familiar with the instruments you’re writing for, understand how to construct a musical form, develop your own harmonic thinking and musical conceptualisation, absorb the musical history of both your own and other cultures, and so on. You can teach and guide a young composer in all these components.

“Naturally you can neither teach nor give musical sensitivity and imagination.”

How can you teach a pupil who represents a quite different aesthetic?

“To me, aesthetics have virtually nothing to do with this. All music can be well or badly written. As I see it, all composers must write music in their own image. I have my greatest doubts when pupils come to me who have closely studied my scores and present me with music that looks just like mine, often with identical notation.”

Saariaho herself is one of the first to admit that tuition can be of quite decisive importance.

“I’m good proof that you can teach composition, because when I enrolled as a student of Paavo Heininen, I didn’t really have a clue about composing, even though I had a burning need to dedicate my life to it!”


Musica nova Helsinki’s Creative Dialogue workshop will be held in the Organo Hall of the Helsinki Music Centre at 15:00 on Saturday February 7.  The programme will include works by Kaija Saariaho and composition students at the workshop, performed by instrumentalist participants.

The full interview with Kaija Saariaho by Kimmo Korhonen and programme notes on the concert will be given in the festival handbook to be published in January.