Esa-Pekka Salonen ‒ Biography
As both a lauded composer and a world renowned conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen has a restless innovation that marks him as one of the most important artists in classical music. The Boston Globe has said that he displays “a kind of complete musicianship rarely encountered today.” Salonen is currently the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor for London’s Philharmonia Orchestra and the Conductor Laureate for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he was Music Director from 1992 until 2009. His pieces Floof and LA Variations have become established modern classics, and new compositions continue to be performed around the globe.
Trained in the austere world of European modernism and enjoying a close relationship with the sunny city of Los Angeles, Salonen composes works that move freely between contemporary idioms, combining intricacy and technical virtuosity with playful rhythmic and melodic innovations. Three major retrospectives of Salonen’s original work have been heard by capacity audiences and received critical acclaim: at Festival Présences Paris in 2011; at the Stockholm International Composer Festival in 2004; and at Musica Nova, Helsinki, in 2003. Salonen has completed several works for symphony orchestra, including Foreign Bodies (2001), commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Insomnia (2002), co-commissioned by Suntory Hall, Tokyo and Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Hamburg, and Wing on Wing, which received its world premiere at Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2004 and was a gift from the composer to the Los Angeles Philharmonic in honor of their new home. In 2007, Salonen conducted the New York Philharmonic in the first performance of his Piano Concerto, dedicated to Yefim Bronfman, who also premiered it. Salonen’s Violin Concerto, which premiered with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Leila Josefowicz in 2009, won the 2012 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition and was released on Deutsche Grammophon along with Salonen’s Nyx in 2012.
September 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of Salonen’s debut with the Philharmonia Orchestra. His 2013-14 concert season bookends with the Philharmonia: beginning in September with concerts throughout Europe including the Grafenegg, Berlin, and Lucerne Festivals; and ending in June with several engagements at Royal Festival Hall and on their Chinese tour. Throughout their relationship, Salonen and the Philharmonia have curated landmark multi-disciplinary festivals. Last season, they marked the centenary of the birth of Witold Lutoslawski, Salonen’s mentor, with Woven Words: “Music begins where words end.” Salonen and the Philharmonia previously created the award-winning RE-RITE installation, which was first exhibited in London in 2009 and has since travelled to Portugal, China, Turkey, Germany and Austria. The digital residency allows members of the public to conduct, play and step inside the Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen through audio and video projections of musicians performing The Rite of Spring. Their follow-up installation, ‘Universe of Sound’, based on Holst’s The Planets, debuted at London’s Science Museum and won the 2012 Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Audiences and Engagement. Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra, in partnership with Music Sales Group, Rite Digital and Touch Press, recently released a successful iPad app, The Orchestra. Slate hailed the interactive tour through orchestral history as “the perfect classical music app.”
As the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 17 years, Salonen is widely credited with revitalizing the organization and bringing the idea of the symphony orchestra into the 21st century. As Alex Ross of The New Yorker wrote, “Salonen turned the Los Angeles Philharmonic into the most intellectually lively orchestra in America. ... the metamorphosis of the Philharmonic was Salonen’s doing, and he thereby gained a place among the visionary conductors of American musical history.” During his tenure, Salonen was instrumental in helping the orchestra to open their famed Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry. The iconic hall celebrates its 10th anniversary in fall 2013. Salonen also presided over countless premieres and contemporary work; began the Esa-Pekka Salonen Commissions Fund; made the Los Angeles Philharmonic one of the best attended and funded orchestras in the country, and became, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, an “open, communicative, imaginative artist—among the most beloved of our town and time.” The genesis of many unique festivals and collaborations under his leadership of the Los Angeles Philharmonic included a production of Saint François d’Assise at the Salzburg Festival (1992), and a Stravinsky Festival together with Pierre Boulez at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris (1996). This season, Salonen returns to the Los Angeles to conduct a Green Umbrella Concert of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels and performances of his own Violin Concerto with Leila Josefowicz. He will later conduct the concerto with the New York Philharmonic with Josefowicz at Lincoln Center in October and November 2013.
In addition to his work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Philharmonia Orchestra, Salonen performs frequently as a guest with the world’s top orchestras. During the 2013-14 season, he will make appearances with the Chicago Symphony, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the Filarmonica della Scala. Salonen is also an enthusiastic conductor of operatic works. In July 2013, he led an anticipated new production of Strauss’ Elektra directed by Patrice Chéreau at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. A previous Chéreau/Salonen collaboration led to a production of Janáček’s From the House of the Dead in 2009 at The Metropolitan Opera, which The New York Times described as “a milestone.” From the House of the Dead was originally conducted by Pierre Boulez. Elektra is a co-production with La Scala and The Metropolitan Opera, where it will appear in forthcoming seasons under his baton.
Salonen has an extensive recording career. A new album of one of Henri Dutilleux’s most important works recorded with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in the presence of the composer was released in 2013 on Deutsche Grammophon on the composer’s 97th birthday. Also that month, Sony completed a recording project that began with Salonen and the Los Angeles nearly 30 years ago: a 2-disc set of the orchestral works of Lutosławski, released in what would have been the composer’s 100th year. In 2012, he recorded a disc of Saariaho’s Passion De Simone with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Dawn Upshaw. Salonen’s Violin Concerto and his orchestral work Nyx were released on Deutsche Grammophon with Leila Josefowicz and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in 2012. Deutsche Grammophon has also released a portrait CD of Salonen’s orchestral works performed by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and conducted by the composer, as well as a CD with Salonen’s Piano Concerto and his works Helix and Dichotomie. The latter, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Yefim Bronfman, was nominated for a Grammy in 2009. A CD of five of his orchestral works is available on Sony. 2012 saw the release of the first ever recording of Shostakovich’s previously undiscovered opera prologue Orango with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Salonen, on Deutsche Grammophon. In 2009, a new collaboration with the Philharmonia Orchestra’s partner label Signum was launched with the release of a live recording of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder; other recent recordings with the Philharmonia on Signum include Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Mahler’s sixth and ninth symphonies. Salonen’s 2008 recording of Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto and Sibelius’ Violin Concerto with Hilary Hahn and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra won a Grammy Award. On Deutsche Grammophon, Salonen’s recordings include a DVD of Kaija Saariaho’s opera L’Amour de Loin (with the Finnish National Opera) as well as two CDs with Hélčne Grimaud featuring works by Pärt and Schumann. His first recording with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon (Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring – the first CD recording at Walt Disney Concert Hall) was nominated for a Grammy in 2007.
Salonen is the recipient of many major awards, including the UNESCO Rostrum Prize for his composition Floof in 1992 and the Siena Prize, given by the Accademia Chigiana in 1993; he is the first conductor ever to receive it. In 1995, he received the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Opera Award and two years later, the society’s Conductor Award. Salonen was awarded the Litteris et Artibus medal, one of Sweden’s highest honors, by the King of Sweden in 1996. In 1998, the French government awarded him the rank of Officier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Salonen was also honored with the Pro Finlandia Medal of the Order of the Lion of Finland. In 2003, the Sibelius Academy in Finland gave him an honorary doctorate and two years later Salonen won the Helsinki Medal. To date, Salonen has received seven honorary doctorates in four different countries. Musical America named him its Musician of the Year on 2006. He was elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2010. He is Artistic Director and confounder of the Baltic Sea Festival, an event that annually invites celebrated orchestras, conductors and soloists to promote unity and ecological awareness among the countries around the Baltic Sea.