For Aliisa Neige Barrière, there was no other career option than music. However, the choice to become a conductor was not an obvious decision. Barrière grew up in France, where classical music circles are conservative: there are not too many female conductors as a role models. However, her composer parents Kaija Saariaho and Jean-Baptiste Barrière encouraged her in her music career.
”My career with music was clear to me since I was a child. Violin fascinated me, the wide range of tones from low to high was interesting,” Barrière says.
She studied to become a professional violinist, first in France, then for four years in New York and the next four years in Oslo. However, an active freelancing career as a professional violinist had to be interrupted when the doors to the Sibelius Academy’s conductor course opened, somewhat surprisingly for Barrièr herself.
”I didn’t expect to get to the Sibelius Academy, to be honest. I went to the entrance exams to try it out, but I was selected. I was one of the first students Sakari Oramo chose to study in the conductor class. Then came corona pandemic and studying – yes, it at least became different from what I had expected,” she laughs.
The secret to the success of the Sibelius Academy’s conductor class is the “conductor band”, with which students normally work on daily basis – in other words, they rehearse their future profession in front of the real orchestra. During the corona period, that possibility did not exist. When Barrière started in the conductor class, the autumn season the class had a new teacher every week.
”It was inspiring, but also challenging. For four months, a novice conductor receives different feedback from different people. By Christmas, we all had a bit of an identity crisis – which of the feedback we received was just right for us,” Barrière recalls.
Grow into yourself
Corona, on the other hand, was also a lucky coincidence, as the pandemic canceled Oramo’s own concerts and duties abroad. In exchange, he had plenty of time to guide his students. Oramo has become an important professional support for Barrière.
”We understand each other well with Sakari. It’s wonderful that he’s my professor. He is a great musician, a conductor, who is making a remarkable international career and he gives us a lot of his time in teaching – it has been an insane privilege. Dalia Stasevska is also an important person to me, honest, natural and, like Sakari, down to earth – a person with her feet on the ground that the industry needs,” Barrière says.
That is perhaps what Barrière is like herself.
”You have to try to be yourself. It is one of the most challenging things in this profession that I was also afraid of. The usual conductor’s cliché doesn’t really fit into my personality, I’m an introvert and I’m not very loud either. I was afraid that I would change into something else in front of the orchestra than I basically am,” she reflects.
There are still a lot of traditions in the field of classical music, which Barrière herself is changing with her own example.
”I want to be a role model for young women, of course. Or for all women, in fact. We, too, have our place in this profession. I want to be authentically myself and I hope that it is conveyed to the audience through music,” Barrière emphasizes.
Celebrations throughout the whole world
Barrière is brought to Oulu by Kaija Saariaho’s birthday. Although Barrière has become familiar with Saariaho’s music since she was a child, the process of working with her mother’s composition is no different from others.
”The work process is the same in all works. Even if you have heard a lot of music and know the work well, you cannot think that this will be easy. When you open a note, you realize that you have to build and implement your own interpretation yourself,” she says.
What’s in store for the concert in Oulu?
”Lots of great colors. It’s great that Graal théâtre and Vista are in the same concert. Kaija’s handprint and language is easily recognized from them. Kaija’s language is so personal that you can recognize the works are made by her the second you’ll hear them”, Barrière assures.
”Graal théâtre premiered in the summer of 1995 and Kaija composed the work while she was waiting for me. Vista, on the other hand, is from 2020 and I assisted conductor Susanna Mälkki in its premiere,” she adds.
It can be said that Saariaho does not celebrate his birthday in the family circle, as concerts by the acclaimed composer are held around the world. There has been a lot of work involved in planning them, so Barrière admits that the family has not yet thought about how Saariaho’s actual birthday will be celebrated as a family.
”My parents and brother will come to Finland next week, and I’m sure we’ll be celebrating together Kaija’s birthday,” Barrière rejoices.
Tickets to Oulu Symphony Orcherstra’s Focus Kaija Saariaho concert from this link.
The concert is part of The Ostrobothnian Contempory Music Festival. Full festival program can be found from here.