Esa-Pekka Salonen joins San Francisco Symphony

Esa-Pekka Salonen is to be the next music director of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS). He will replace Michael Tilson Thomas in September 2020, becoming the 12th person to hold the post in its 107-year history.

The Finn is no stranger to California, having previously led the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Other orchestras on his résumé are London Philharmonia (principal conductor), Finnish National Opera and Ballet (artist-in-association) and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra (principal conductor).

And, like Tilson Thomas, Salonen is also a noted composer. Currently composer-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic, his works include an acclaimed Violin Concerto (2010) and Wing on Wing (2004), which was performed at the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Salonen commented that he “wasn’t looking for another music directorship” but added that when the offer came the decision was a “no-brainer”.

“Here is a top symphony orchestra in the place in America where things start; where the ways things have always been done are interrogated, and where problems are first identified and then solved. In San Francisco itself and in the SFS, I see both the big ideas being thought and the actual work being done, and that, to me, is irresistible.”

His work with SFS begins immediately as music director designate. Then, once he assumes the full role, he will spend 12-14 weeks each season with the orchestra, in an initial five-year contract.

Further, SFS has announced a new artistic leadership model. From 2020 the orchestra will be led by Salonen and a group of eight “collaborative partners”: composer Nicholas Britell; singer Julia Bullock; flautist Claire Chase; indie guitarist Bryce Dessner; violinist Pekka Kuusisto; composer Nico Muhly; AI specialist Carol Reiley; and jazz artist Esperanza Spalding.