Salonen, Esa-Pekka

Salonen, Esa-Pekka
▪ 2008

born June 30, 1958, Helsinki, Fin.

 The year 2007 would prove to be something of a watershed for Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. He announced that after the 2008–09 season he would step down as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a position he had held since 1992, in order to devote more time to composing. He planned to continue an association with the orchestra as director emeritus, and he had already decided to work with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London as its principal conductor and artistic adviser.

      Salonen studied French horn, conducting, and composition at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki (1973–77) and composition with private teachers in Italy (1979–81). In 1979 he made his conducting debut with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He burst onto the international scene in 1983 with his performance of Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony with the Philharmonia in London. An American Grammy Award and a British Gramophone magazine award went in 1986 to Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic for their recording of Witold Lutoslawski's Symphony No. 3.

      Salonen's dynamic and theatrical approach proved a perfect match for the Los Angeles musicians, and he led the orchestra through 15 years of excitement and successes. Particularly rejuvenating was the move in 2003 to the spectacular new Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. During his time as director, Salonen and the orchestra were the first to play John Adams's Naïve and Sentimental Music (1999) as well as several of his own compositions, including LA Variations (1997), 1001 Nights (1998), and Wing on Wing (2004).

      Like other international star conductors, Salonen continued to work with many of the world's highly regarded orchestras. He was also active in the international music festival circuit and made numerous recordings for Deutsche Grammophon. Salonen's programming emphasized contemporary music while not ignoring the classical repertoire (in 2006 he completed a cycle of Beethoven symphonies). Among his favourites were composers from the Baltic region, including Estonian Arvo Pärt and Finns Jean Sibelius, Kaija Saariaho, and Magnus Lindberg. Salonen began a collaboration with Austrian composer Gyorgy Ligeti, who died in 2006, on a project to record all of his orchestral works. Of particular interest were Salonen's collaborations with American stage director Peter Sellars, most recently The Tristan Project (2004), a multimedia concert presentation of Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde; one act was played on each of three successive evenings, and all were accompanied by a video by Bill Viola. Salonen won numerous awards, including the Siena Prize for composition (1993), two Royal Philharmonic Society Awards (1995 and 1997), and the Helsinki Medal (2005). He was named 2006 Musician of the Year by the publication Musical America.

Charles Trumbull

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Universalium. 2010.

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