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The Special Feature 3/2022 Editorial: On musical metaphors and human encounters

by Lasse Lehtonen

"All pieces in this Special Feature share one theme: the significance of encounters," writes Lasse Lehtonen.

From silence emerges sound that gently fills the air. What was dark, hazy, and intangible becomes a celebration of colours in myriad shades: a journey to previously unimagined atmospheres, an exploration of timbres and bodily sensations that one has never experienced before. Silence ultimately follows, but when it does, it has changed its shape. It is as if musical sounds have secretly rendered it into new colours, and with it the world that surrounds us.  

In recent years, I have had many fascinating discussions about the music of Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952) with musicians, audiences and fellow musicologists from diverse cultural backgrounds. It has been both surprising and intriguing in how similar terms we tend to describe our ways of experiencing Saariaho’s music. In discussions about her work, musical sounds transform into metaphors for atmospheres and colours that carry us to other worlds while, at the same time, being firmly based in the space where the music echoes and the magic happens.  

Autumn 2022 has certainly seen a lot happening in Finland with Saariaho’s music. Saariaho turned 70 in October – an anniversary that has been celebrated with numerous concerts, discussions, and other events. To get an idea of the extraordinary scale of these, just check the webpage dedicated to the celebrations in Finland. The abundance of these events conveys Saariaho’s importance to the Finnish musical scene, where her music certainly holds a unique position. But with Saariaho, we are obviously not talking about merely national significance; Saariaho is also the most internationally noted Finnish composer since Jean Sibelius.  

This Special Feature joins the larger celebrations of Saariaho’s extraordinary career and creative output by addressing the various facets of her work and the impact it has had on musicians, musicologists, composers, and audiences. As can be seen in our articles, this impact has been massive. As put by Susan McClary in her essay: “With the opening sonority of each of her works, Kaija establishes a vibration that resonates deep inside the listener’s body along with a spectrum of overtones that grow out of that original sonority but that also foreshadow the complex contradictions that compel us to identify with and follow the web she weaves.”  

But while all pieces in this Special Feature address the different facets of Saariaho’s work and are seemingly unrelated to each other, they also share one theme: the significance of encounters that have occurred (and keep on occurring) between music and its audience, between persons, between ideas. In these encounters, Saariaho – or Kaija, as many of the writers of this Special Feature refer to her – represents an inspiration and a trailblazer: a composer of extraordinary music and a creator of new aural worlds; but also a teacher, a colleague, a friend, an incisive thinker, and a mother. It is at the intersection of such encounters that one senses something essential: the presence of a human being.


Featured painting created with DALL·E 2.