Esa-Pekka Salonen

Conductor, Speaker

The Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen is still probably best-known as a conductor, and his podium career has certainly been spectacular. He studied with Jorma Panula in the late 1970s, emerging as one of a generation of young Finnish conductors who rejected the idea of the maestro-as-tyrant – informal, forward-looking, and forging a collegial, democratic partnership with the orchestras they've directed. In Los Angeles (1992-2009) Salonen redefined the orchestra's social and cultural role; he's subsequently held positions with the Philharmonia and the San Francisco Symphony. But the experience of working in the USA proved a creative liberation: enabling him to embrace what he calls "the pleasure principle" in big, dazzlingly coloured orchestral works such as LA Variations (1996), Foreign Bodies (2001) and the diptych Gemini (2019). There's a similarly outsize musical personality at play in the song-cycle Floof (1988) and the solo violin work Lachen verlernt (2002), and Salonen has celebrated his professional friendships in concertos for piano (for Yefim Bronfman, 2007), violin (Leila Josefowicz, 2009) and cello (Yo-Yo Ma, 2017). His work on the podium continues to inform his vision as a composer. "By doing something as strange as writing new art music, you send out a very optimistic signal that I actually believe in this", he says. "And I believe in the longevity of the art form, and also believe there is a lot to be said still".