Esa-Pekka Salonen is a world-class conductor – and is also widely acclaimed as a composer. As a visionary orchestra leader, the current music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra has attracted international attention, and his powerful and precise baton technique is particularly impressive.
At the age of 15, Esa-Pekka Salonen enrolled at the Sibelius Academy in his home town of Helsinki as a horn major. After four years, he graduated with flying colours – and continued his studies: composition under Einojuhani Rautavaara and orchestral conducting under Jorma Panula, whose school has produced well-known conductors such as Susanna Mälkki, Sakari Oramo and Jukka-Pekka Saraste. “I realised very quickly that I could earn a living by conducting, which I couldn’t do by composing. And because I had a reputation for being a quick learner, I became a kind of stand-in specialist for colleagues who became ill or who were unable to perform for other reasons,” Salonen recalls. In 1983, Salonen stood in at short notice for a concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London and caused a sensation with a brilliant interpretation of Mahler’s Third Symphony. This marked the beginning of his international career: “Suddenly there were agents, managers, orchestras, record companies, journalists who all wanted something from me.” Just one year later, he made his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and in 1985 he was appointed head of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, with which he is still associated as conductor laureate. From 1992 to 2009, Salonen was music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, from 2003 to 2018, he led the Baltic Sea Festival, which he co-founded, and in 2008, he took up his post as principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. As a guest conductor, Salonen has led many prestigious orchestras in Europe and the USA; opera productions have taken him to the Salzburg Festival, the Metropolitan Opera New York, La Scala Milan and the Opéra national de Paris, among others.