Kaija Saariaho and Vasco Mendonça: Composing the future

courtesy of Rolex

Courtesy of Rolex

Air France magazine April 2015

What do a contemporary music festival, a Finnish composer, her Portuguese protégé and a Swiss watchmaker have in common? They are all part of a successful mentoring program. We meet two of its creative participants.
Helping young artists establish their careers by partnering with distinguished names in literature, dance, architecture, film, theater, the visual arts and music: this was the idea that inspired Rolex to open its address book and bring out its smartest stationery back in 2002.Toni Morrison, William Forsythe, Robert Wilson, David Hockney and Sir Colin Davis were among the first mentors to receive invitations sent from Switzerland stamped with the watchmaker’s famous crown logo: the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative was born. Every two years since, seven young talents
in the arts have been selected by an advisory board of independent experts for the opportunity to work with a master.

In the field of music, there was still a vast sphere to explore: that of composition. Finnish-born Kaija Saariaho came to cast her almost maternal gaze on Vasco Mendonça, her protégé, a young composer born in Porto in 1977. Mendonça, whose first opera, The House Taken Over, was created in 2013 for the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, is well aware that the support of a master is, and always has been, the path to success. “When they introduced me to the three finalists,” recalls Saariaho, “I wondered which one I could bring the most to. I discussed it with Peter Sellars, who said, ‘Ask yourself instead which one will bring the most to you!’” Saariaho, who lives in France, was interested inMendonça, who was, in turn, interested in opera. “Kaija has extensive experience in theater. She gives me advice on selecting texts and on how to work with a librettist. She also helps me publish and record my works,” explains Mendonça. And for Saariaho, working with a younger composer offers her a fresh vision. Behind these partnerships, Rolex is discreetly weaving together threads of creativity and friendship by ensuring the mentors and protégés come from the most diverse possible cultures and backgrounds. The one-year collaboration (2014-15) between Saariaho and Mendonça began in Paris. “I wanted Vasco to see where I live and where I work, for him to discover the world of my music.” Next came a trip to Mexico, followed by Finland, where the Musica Nova Helsinki festival closed with a new work by the young Portuguese composer. And there may be yet another encounter to come. The title of the work he is presenting this summer in Aix sounds like a summons: Be With Me Now.

© Cécile Balavoine 2016