Composer Kaija Saariaho visits Mount Holyoke College

Kaija Saariaho, Finnish Composer and Artist-in-Residence,
Leading Women in the Arts Series (choral singing) Kivie Cahn-Lipman, cello instructor: It’s
the most human music. There’s something so
human about it. Her work is very modern,and she stands for something that I think the rest of us all aspire to be—a leader
in her field, someone who can communicate well through words and also through their
art. (flute performance) Kivie Cahn-Lipman, cello instructor: This
is the annual Leading Women in the Arts program, that is sponsored by the Weissman Center for
Leadership and the Liberal Arts. Every year,a different department has the opportunity
to bring in a spokeswoman for that department and for the arts, and this year the chance
came to the music department. And we leapt at the opportunity to bring in Kaija Saariaho. Tomorrow morning there will be a public chamber
music coaching. She’ll work with students who have been learning some of her music,
which is getting performed tomorrow afternoon. This afternoon there was also a public coaching
where she was able to work with the student choirs who are singing her concert tonight. (choral singing) It’s a little nerve-wracking, to sing for a composer live, especially when it’s music that’s different
from what you’ve sung before. I just think it was a wonderful experience,
and a lot of us were very … I’m not afraid to say, very turned off by the fact that it
was such strange music. The electronics and the voices were very strange. Ariel: We’re so used to singing tonal music,
and music from old European white men, like singing Brahms, or Beethoven, or Handel. But
now we’re singing music written by a woman, and it’s contemporary, and it’s atonal. And
so it’s really like retraining your brain and your ear to think in a different way. (choral singing) She was wonderful! We sang the music
through, and then she’d come up and offer tidbits of advice. She wanted more brightness
and more loudness and more presence, especially from the women. We often heard chimes or spoken
parts interspersed within the music and it was really that that she focused on. And bringing
out the details really brought the piece together. Kivie: This morning three student composers,
two from Mount Holyoke and one from Hampshire, had their works read for her, and she was
able to comment on them and help them grow as composers. (flute and piano music) Sarah: I’m very interested in writing for
film. Kaija Saariaho: It reminded me of some film
music. It would be beautiful in some film. Sarah: I write with images in my mind. So
it’s good that what I’m thinking is actually what someone else thinks when they hear my
music. So it’s very reassuring to hear her say that. Maestro Saariaho said today to me,
after she heard my piece, if you’re going to be writing in this age, you need to know
what others are writing. So if you want to write tonal music, great, but know that people
are writing avant-garde, atonal, pan-diatonic music. (piano music) (flute and cello music; applause) Sarah: So I understand more now the importance
of recognizing your place in the context of the culture of the arts. Kaija Saariaho: Ask yourself if you like some
music, why do you like it – you know? And if you hate some music, why do you hate it?
I often get good ideas at bad concerts. (Laughter) Because you ask yourself, “Well, why didn’t
it work? What was there that did not work?” And, “What would I have done with that idea?” Sarah: So it was very inspiring for me to
work one-on-one with this person, hear her own criticism and praise. It was a little
nerve-wracking! But it’s important, especially in a creative field, to hear criticism. So
you can only get better. Kivie: I was thrilled to watch her interacting
with the students that way because I knew her as a composer. And I had no idea what
she would be like in a more intimate setting, how she would relate to students. And she’s
been wonderful.

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