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Esa-Pekka Salonen (2008)
Esa-Pekka Salonen ( ; born June 30, 1958) is a prominent Finnishmarker orchestral conductor and composer. He is currently Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in Londonmarker and Conductor Laureate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.


Early career

Salonen, born in Helsinkimarker, Finlandmarker, studied horn and composition at the Sibelius Academymarker in Helsinkimarker, as well as conducting with Jorma Panula. His conducting classmates included Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Osmo Vänskä.Another classmate on the composition side was the composer Magnus Lindberg and together they formed the new-music appreciation group Korvat auki and the experimental ensemble Toimii ("Ears open" and "It works" in the Finnish language). Later, Salonen studied with the composers Franco Donatoni, Niccolò Castiglioni and Einojuhani Rautavaara.

His first experience with conducting came in 1979 with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, though he still thought of himself principally as a composer; in fact, Salonen has said that the primary reason he took up conducting was to ensure that someone would conduct his own compositions. In 1983, however, he replaced an indisposed Michael Tilson-Thomas to conduct a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 3 with the Philharmonia Orchestra in Londonmarker at very short notice without ever having studied the score before that time, and it launched his career as a conductor. He was subsequently principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia from 1985 to 1994.

Salonen was principal conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1984-1995.

Los Angeles Philharmonic

He made his U.S. conducting debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1984. "I had no idea what to expect," Salonen said. "But the one thing that I didn't expect was when an older player came to talk to me after the first concert and said, 'Consider this your future home.' Something was going on, because I felt the same. I sensed with an absolute certainty that this orchestra, in whatever way, was going to be a very important part of my life. Always." He has conducted the orchestra every season since.

In 1989, he was offered the title of Principal Guest Conductor by Executive VP Ernest Fleischmann and was to take the orchestra on a tour of Japan; however, controversy ensued when Andre Previn, the orchestra's Music Director at the time, was not consulted on either the Principal Guest appointment or the tour, and objected to both. Continued friction between Fleischmann and Previn led to Previn's resignation in April 1989. Four months later, Salonen was named the orchestra's tenth Music Director, officially taking the post in 1992 and holding it until 2009.

Salonen's tenure with the orchestra first began with a residency at the 1992 Salzburg Festival in concert performances and as the pit orchestra in a production of the opera Saint-François d'Assise by Olivier Messiaen; it was the first time an American orchestra was given that opportunity. Salonen later took the orchestra on many other tours of the United States, Europe, and Asia, and residencies at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerlandmarker, The Proms in London, in Cologne for a festival of Salonen's own works, and perhaps most notably, in 1996 at the Théâtre du Châteletmarker in Paris for a Stravinsky festival conducted by Salonen and Pierre Boulez; it was during this Paris residency that key Philharmonic board members heard the orchestra perform in improved acoustics and were re-invigorated to lead fundraising efforts to complete construction of Walt Disney Concert Hallmarker.

Under Salonen's leadership, the Philharmonic has become an extremely progressive and well-regarded orchestra. Alex Ross of The New Yorker said this:
The Salonen era in L.A. may mark a turning point in the recent history of classical music in America.
It is a story not of an individual magically imprinting his personality on an institution - what Salonen has called the "empty hype" of conductor worship - but of an individual and an institution bringing out unforeseen capabilities in each other, and thereby proving how much life remains in the orchestra itself, at once the most conservative and the most powerful of musical organisms.

In 2007, Salonen and the orchestra announced that he would step down from his position as Music Director in 2009, with Gustavo Dudamel taking his place.

Before Salonen's last concert as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic on April 19, 2009, the orchestra announced his appointment as its first ever Conductor Laureate "as acknowledgement of our profound gratitude to him and to signify our continuing connection." In response, Salonen said:

“When the Board asked me if I would accept the position of Conductor Laureate I was overwhelmed.
This organization has been at the very center of my musical life for 17 years.
I am very proud and honored that they would even consider me for such a prestigious title and it gives me great pleasure to accept.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic will always play an important role in my life and this is a symbol of our continuing relationship.”

In addition, the LA Phil created the Esa-Pekka Salonen Commissions Fund "for the express purpose of supporting the commissioning and performance of new works" as a way to honor his support of contemporary classical music during his tenure as Music Director. At its inception, it was endowed with $1.5 Million.

During Salonen's tenure as music director, the orchestra gave 120 pieces their world or American debuts and commissioned over 54 new works. By the time he stepped down, he had served as music director longer than anyone else in the orchestra's history; he conducted the orchestra in 973 concerts and gone on 23 tours.

Though November 2009 will mark the 25th anniversary of Salonen's premiere with the Philharmonic, he is not going to conduct the orchestra to commemorate the occasion, saying, "I'm going to give it a short break. I think that it's important for Gustavo to get going without the old guy hanging around too much and all that." As a way to honor the anniversary, Dudamel will conduct Salonen's composition L.A. Variations that month. Salonen plans to return to conduct the orchestra as part of its 2010-2011 season.

Photo Gallery: "Career retrospective: Esa-Pekka Salonen"

Philharmonia Principal Conductor and beyond

In November 2006, the Philharmonia Orchestra announced the appointment of Salonen as Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor at the beginning of the 2008-9 season.

Salonen intends to devote more time to composing and to opera. He has engagements to conduct Janáček's opera, The House of the Dead, at both The Metropolitan Opera and La Scalamarker, and hopes to finish composing his opera based on the novel The Woman and the Ape by Peter Høeg. He has stated a desire to conduct Wagner's Parsifal, but turned down an offer of The Ring Cycle at Bayreuthmarker.

Personal life

Salonen married Jane Price, a former musician with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the couple have three children, two daughters, Ella Aneira and Anja Sofia, and one son, Oliver.

When Igor Stravinsky's former Beverly Hillsmarker residence at 1260 North Wetherly Drive was put up for sale, Salonen strongly considered buying the property; however, after visiting the house and, among other things, noting that indentations from Stravinsky's piano were still visible in the carpet, he was intimidated by the prospect of trying to compose in the same house where Stravinsky had written many important works, including Symphony in Three Movements, the Concerto in D for Strings, The Rake's Progress, Orpheus, Agon, the Cantata, and Mass. He ultimately decided not to buy the house.

Career highlights


Among Salonen's compositions are ...auf den ersten blick und ohne zu wissen... (1980, a saxophone concerto with a title taken from Franz Kafka's The Trial), Floof for soprano and ensemble (1982, on texts by Stanisław Lem) and the orchestral L.A. Variations (1996).

Salonen has stated that his time in California has helped him to be more "free" in his compositions. Mark Swed, chief music critic of the Los Angeles Times, described it this way:

When [Salonen] arrived in Los Angeles, he still liked to consider himself a composer-conductor, but the truth was that he had stopped writing music.
"The obvious and easy explanation for me to give to people when they were asking why there hadn't been any new pieces for a while was that I had been conducting so much, I had no time," he said.
"But that was only half the explanation."

As a European Modernist, Salonen said, he had been inculcated with negatives, such as to avoid melody, harmonic identity and rhythmic pulse. Secretly, though, he was attracted to John Adams, who was then dismissed overseas as being simplistic. "Only after a couple of years here did I begin to see that the European canon I blindly accepted was not the only truth," he said. "Over here, I was able to think about this rule that forbids melody. It's madness. Madness!"

Without a European musical elite looking over his shoulder, Salonen began to feel that it was fine to have his own ideas. "My focus moved from an ideological principle to a pleasure principle" is how he described the composition of his breakthrough piece, "LA Variations," which the Philharmonic premiered in 1997.

Although a work of great intricacy and virtuosity that doesn't ignore Salonen's Modernist training, "LA Variations" builds on rhythmic innovations closer to Adams. The piece proved an immediate hit, so much so that Salonen was stunned by the reaction and then by the score's continuing success -- it has been taken up by several other conductors and had more than 80 performances worldwide.

In order to devote more time to composition, Salonen took a year's sabbatical from conducting in 2000, during which time he wrote a work for solo horn (Concert Étude, the competition piece for Lieksa Brass Week), Dichotomie for pianist Gloria Cheng, Mania for the cellist Anssi Karttunen and sinfonietta, and Gambit, an orchestral piece that was a birthday present for fellow composer and friend Magnus Lindberg.

In 2001, Salonen composed Foreign Bodies, his largest work in terms of orchestration, which incorporated music from the opening movement of Dichotomie. Another orchestral piece, Insomnia, followed in 2002, and another, Wing On Wing, in 2004. Wing On Wing includes parts for two sopranos and distorted samples of architect Frank O. Gehry's voice as well as a fish.

As is apparent with his interpretations of such avant-garde works as Jan Sandström's Motorbike Concerto, Esa-Pekka Salonen voices a distaste for ideological and dogmatic approaches to composition and sees music creation as deeply physical. In the liner notes for Deutsche Grammophon's release of Wing On Wing, he is quoted saying "Musical expression is bodily expression, there is no abstract cerebral expression in my opinion. It all comes out of the body." A recurring theme in his music is the fusion of or relationship between the mechanical and the organic.

Selected compositions

World premiere details shown where available, Salonen conducting unless otherwise shown
  • 1980 Concerto for alto saxophone and orchestra (...auf den ersten blick und ohne zu wissen...) (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Pekka Savijoki, saxophone; 22 September 1981, Helsinki)
  • 1982 Giro for orchestra (Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra, Finland; 27 November 1981), revised 1997 (Avanti! chamber orchestra, Summer Sounds; 29 June 1997, Porvoo)
  • 1982 Floof (Songs of a Homeostatic Homer) for soprano and chamber ensemble (Anu Komsi, soprano, Toimii Ensemble; 27 August 1988, Helsinki)
  • 1992 Mimo II for oboe and orchestra (Jorma Valjakka, oboe, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; 14 December 1992, Helsinkimarker)
  • 1996 LA Variations for orchestra (Los Angeles Philharmonic; January 16, 2007, Los Angeles)
  • 1999 Five Images after Sappho for soprano and chamber ensemble (Laura Claycomb, soprano; Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group; June 4, 1999, Ojaimarker, California)
  • 2000 Dichotomie for solo piano (Gloria Cheng, piano; December 4, 2000, Los Angeles)
  • 2000 Mania for cello and orchestra or ensemble (Anssi Karttunen, cello, Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, Summer Sounds; 2 July 2000, Porvoo)
  • 2001 Foreign Bodies (Finish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Jukka-Pekka Saraste; 12 August 2001, Schleswig-Holstein Festival, Kiel)
  • 2002 Insomnia (NHK Symphony Orchestra; Tokyo, 1 December 2002)
  • 2002 Lachen Verlernt (Laughing Unlearned), chaconne for violin (Cho-Liang Lin, violin; 10 August 2002, La Jollamarker, California, La Jolla SummerFest)
  • 2004 Wing on Wing for orchestra and two sopranos (Los Angeles Philharmonic; Jamie Chamberlin and Hila Plitmann, sopranos; June 5, 2004)
  • 2005 Helix (World Orchestra for Peace, Valery Gergiev; August 29, 2005, London)
  • 2007 Piano Concerto (Yefim Bronfman, piano; New York Philharmonic; February 1, 2007, New York)
  • 2009 Violin Concerto (Leila Josefowicz, violin; Los Angeles Philharmonic; April 9, 2009, Los Angeles)

Selected world premiere performances

In addition to conducting his own compositions, Salonen has actively championed other composers' music, most notably Magnus Lindberg, Kaija Saariaho, and Steven Stucky. Many noteworthy compositions have even been dedicated to Salonen. Below is a list of some of the world premieres that he has conducted:

John Adams
  • "Naïve & Sentimental Music," Los Angeles Philharmonic (February 19, 1999)
  • "The Dharma at Big Sur," Tracy Silverman (electric violin), Los Angeles Philharmonic (October 24, 2003)

Louis Andriessen
  • "Haags Hakkûh" (The Hague Hacking) – Double Piano Concerto, Katia and Marielle Labèque (pianos), Los Angeles Philharmonic (January 16, 2009)

John Corigliano

Franco Donatoni
  • “Esa (in Cauda V),” Los Angeles Philharmonic (February 16, 2001)

Anders Hillborg
  • “Eleven Gates,” Los Angeles Philharmonic (May 4, 2006)

William Kraft
  • “The Grand Encounter,” English Horn Concerto, Carolyn Hove (English horn), Los Angeles Philharmonic (January 16, 2003)

Peter Lieberson

Magnus Lindberg
  • “Kraft” for solo ensemble & orchestra, Finnish Radio Orchestra and the TOIMII-ensemble (September 4, 1985)
  • “Campana in Aria” for horn and orchestra, Hans Dullaert (horn), Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland (June 1998)
  • “Fresco” for orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, (1998)
  • Cello Concerto, Anssi Karttunen (cello), Orchestre de Paris (May 1999)
  • “Chorale” for orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra (2002)
  • “Parada” for orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra (2002)
  • “Sculpture” for orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, (October 6, 2005)

Larry Lipkis

Steven Mackey
  • "Deal" for electric guitar and large ensemble, Bill Frisell (guitar), Joey Baron (drums), Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group (April 17, 1995)

Colin Matthews
  • Horn Concerto, Richard Watkins (horn), Philharmonia Orchestra (April 2001)

David Newman

Gabriela Ortiz
  • “Altar de Piedra,” Concerto for percussion ensemble & orchestra, Kroumata (percussion), Los Angeles Philharmonic, January 2003

Arvo Pärt

Bernard Rands
  • Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic (February 24, 1994)

Roger Reynolds
  • “Symphony (The Stages of Life),” Los Angeles Philharmonic (April 29, 1993)

Kaija Saariaho
  • “Du Kristal,” Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (September 1990)
  • "…a la fumée," Petri Alanko (alto flute) and Anssi Karttunen (cello), Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (March 1991)
  • “Graal Theatre” for violin and orchestra, Gidon Kremer (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra (September 1995)
  • Adriana Mater,” Orchestra & Choir of the Paris Opera (April 2006)

Rodion Shchedrin
  • Piano Concerto No. 5, Olli Mustonen (piano), Los Angeles Philharmonic (October 21, 1999)

Roberto Sierra
  • "Con madera, metal y cuero" for percussion soloist and orchestra, Evelyn Glennie (percussion), Los Angeles Philharmonic (January 21, 1999)

Steven Stucky
  • Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary (after Purcell), for wind ensemble (February 1992)
  • Concerto for Two Flutes, Ann Diener-Zentner (fka Ann Diener-Giles) and Janet Ferguson (flutes), Los Angeles Philharmonic (Feb 23, 1995)
  • “Ancora,” Los Angeles Philharmonic (October 5, 1995)
  • “American Muse,” Sanford Sylvan (baritone), Los Angeles Philharmonic (October 29, 1999)
  • Second Concerto for Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic (March 12, 2004) (Winner: 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Music)
  • “Radical Light,” Los Angeles Philharmonic (Oct 18, 2007)

Augusta Read Thomas
  • “Canticle Weaving: Trombone Concerto #2,” Ralph Sauer (trombone), Los Angeles Philharmonic (March 29, 2003)

Mark-Anthony Turnage


Salonen is renowned for his dedication to performing and recording contemporary music. His 1985 recording of Witold Lutosławski's Symphony No. 3 won the 1985 Gramophone Award, the Grammy Award, and a Caecilia Prize for Best Contemporary Recording. He later recorded Lutosławski's Symphony No. 4 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, once for Sony Classical, and later in a live recording at Walt Disney Concert Hall for Deutsche Grammophon. He also worked with the Philharmonia Orchestra to record the complete works of György Ligeti for Sony Classical, but unfortunately the project was left unfinished due to lack of funding.

Los Angeles Philharmonic recordings

Complete list of Esa-Pekka Salonen's recordings with the Los Angeles Philharmonic


External links

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