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Esa-Pekka Salonen

Esa-Pekka Salonen emerged as one of the most exciting major conductors of the late 20th century and has continued his illustrious career into the 21st. While best known for his conducting, Salonen views composition as his main career. He is the music director of the San Francisco Symphony and conductor laureate of the Philharmonia and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestras. Salonen was born June 30, 1958, in Helsinki, Finland. He entered the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki in 1973, studying horn with Holgar Fransman. Having graduated in 1977, Salonen remained to study composition with Einojuhani Rautavaara and conducting with Jorma Panula. He later continued his composition studies with Franco Donatoni and Niccolò Castiglioni and also attended the summer course at Darmstadt. Salonen's first large-scale orchestral work was the Concerto for alto saxophone & orchestra "...Auf den esten Blick und ohne zu wissen" (1980-1981), based on Kafka's novel The Trial. His second orchestral work, Giro, dates from 1981. The following year, he composed Floof (revised in 1990), a bright work for soprano and ensemble based on texts by science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, and he started appearing as a horn soloist and guest conductor. Salonen's conducting career took off in 1983, following his sensational London debut with the Philharmonia Orchestra. He made his American debut conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1984. Following these successful debuts, he received a record contract with CBS Masterworks (now Sony Classical), as well as the position of principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia (1985-1994). One of his early projects with CBS was a recording of Messiaen's Turangalîla and Lutoslawski's Symphony No. 3, the latter a world-premiere recording that won a Gramophone Award for Best Contemporary Record in 1985. He won a second award in 1989 for a recording of Sibelius and Nielsen violin concertos, featuring Cho-Liang Lin. Salonen won further awards with the complete Stravinsky works for piano and orchestra with Paul Crossley. As a result of his highly successful performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in 1989, he was invited to become the orchestra's music director. He assumed that post in 1992, becoming, at that time, the orchestra's youngest music director (since supplanted by Gustavo Dudamel) and a successor to such luminaries as Zubin Mehta and Carlo Maria Giulini. During the '80s, Salonen composed tape music, as well as music with electronics and instruments combined. Works written during this period include Baalal, a radiophonic piece, and Yta (Surface), a series of experimental compositions. He won the UNESCO Rostrum Prize in 1992 for Floof. His 1996 orchestral piece, LA Variations, received its triumphant premiere by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1997. The following year, he wrote Gambit, an orchestral work dedicated to Magnus Lindberg. In 1999, Salonen completed Five Images after Sappho, a song cycle for soprano and small ensemble. Other significant works include Wing on Wing for orchestra and two sopranos (2004), a Piano Concerto (2007) written for Yefim Bronfman, and a Cello Concerto (2017), which was premiered by Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Salonen's music employs up-to-date compositional techniques within a central tonality. In 2003, he co-founded the Baltic Sea Festival, serving as music director from its founding until 2018. He led the Los Angeles Philharmonic on major tours and made a series of highly acclaimed recordings before stepping down from his position in 2009. In 2006, Salonen was named principal conductor and, in 2008, the artistic director of the Philharmonia. He remained in both posts with the Philharmonia until 2021; he now holds the post of conductor laureate with both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Philharmonia. In 2020, Salonen became the music director of the San Francisco Symphony. Salonen is known for his 20th century music performances, though he is also praised for his interpretations of Haydn, Mahler, and Beethoven. In addition to established modern composers such as Bartók, Messiaen, and Stravinsky, he also frequently performs more recent masters such as Lutoslawski, Ligeti, and Corigliano, whose concerto from the film The Red Violin he recorded with violinist Joshua Bell. Salonen is a teacher of conducting at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. In 2022, he wrote a Concerto for organ and orchestra on commission from several major organizations, took up the composer in residence position with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and led the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra on a recording of music by Jesper Nordin with clarinetist Martin Fröst.
© Joseph Stevenson & Keith Finke /TiVo


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