Past Event

Echoes of the Universe - The Music of Kaija Saariaho

November 14, 2023
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
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Echoes of the Universe - The Music of Kaija Saariaho:

A screening & discussion moderated by Prof. Zosha Di Castri and Jean-Baptiste Barrière 

Tues. Nov.14th, 7-9pm
Columbia University Maison Francaise, East Gallery, Buell Hall
515 West 116th Street, New York, NY 10027

This event is free, but please register here. Link to video trailer. (now with English subtitles)

Echoes of the Universe – The Music of Kaija Saariaho is a documentary about the contemporary composer Kaija Saariaho who made her career in Paris. The documentary follows Saariaho’s growth from a shy Helsinki girl to the most respected contemporary composer in the world. Saariaho’s education path starts at the Rudolf Steiner school and continues to the Sibelius Academy and from there to Freiburg, Germany, and further to Paris. The documentary also provides peeks into the two master classes that the composer gives to student composers in Tampere and to vocal students in Paris. 

Saariaho’s music is widely performed all over the world in concert halls, on opera stages, and at festivals. In the documentary, the initial ideas and the backgrounds of the works are explained by the composer herself as well as her colleagues and family members. The floor is given to the director Peter Sellars, conductor Clément Mao-Takacs, soprano Anu Komsi, writer Sofi Oksanen, choral conductor Simon Halsey, kantele musician Eija Kankaanranta, and folk musician Vilma Jää. Featured are also Saariaho’s husband Jean-Baptiste Barrière (composer, multimedia artist) as well as their son Aleksi Barrière (musical theatre director, dramaturge, librettist) and daughter Aliisa Neige Barrière (violinist, conductor). 

The opera about the trauma caused by school shooting, Innocence, made opera history when the piece premiered in Aix-en-Provence, France, in the summer of 2021. The masterpiece is the result of the collaboration between three Finnish female artists: Kaija Saariaho, writer Sofi Oksanen, and conductor Susanna Mälkki. The newest material of the documentary was filmed in the rehearsal of Innocence at the Finnish National Opera in October 2022. In addition to Helsinki and Tampere, the documentary was filmed in Denmark’s Ebeltoft, Paris, Venice, and Barcelona. The documentary concludes in Italy where Kaija Saariaho is awarded Venice Biennale’s ‘The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement’ in 2021. 

During her career, Saariaho has received 24 international awards and recognitions. In 2020, in a poll by BBC, Kaija Saariaho was voted the most important living contemporary composer. The New York Times also called Saariaho the most important contemporary composer of 2021. The documentary Echoes of the Universe is also a way to thank and honour composer Saariaho for her impressive gift to the Finnish and international music. 

The documentary was released in honour of Kaija Saariaho’s 70th birthday when her career as a composer has spanned 45 years. 

The film was shot in 2019-2022. The length of the film is 80 minutes. 

Parisian composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière is known for his multimedia work which focuses on the interaction between music and image. He has been involved in the creation of many interdisciplinary shows such as 100 Objects to Represent the World (Salzburg Festival 1997), and has composed music for virtual reality and interactive installations including Worldskin (Prix Ars Electronica 1998). In the late 1990s, he taught and directed the Musical Research, Education and Production program at Ircam in Paris. He has also taught computer music composition at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki (1997-98), has served as a visiting professor at Columbia University (2011-12), and was the first grantee of the David Wessel Music & Science Grant of the Center for New Music & Audio Technologies at the University of California Berkeley (2015). 

Zosha Di Castri is the Francis Goelet Associate Professor of Music at Columbia University and a 2023 American Academy of Arts and Letters Goddard Lieberson fellow. 


Director and screenwriter: Riitta Rask Head cinematographer: Pekka Uotila Film editor: Maria Haipus
Sound recorder: Christian Pulkkinen Sound designer: Salla Hämäläinen Mixing: Sami Sarhamaa 

Graphics: Studio Pekka Piippo
Head producer: Teatro Productions Oy / Kaisa Näreranta