Back to Press Room

Articles & Interviews

Spotlight: Esa-Pekka Salonen Named Next SFS Music Director 

January 9, 2019


  Photo by Andrew Eccles 

“The SF Symphony’s powerhouse combination of Michael Tilson Thomas’s exacting musicality and freedom of spirit is a legacy I’m privileged to inherit.”—Salonen

The San Francisco Symphony is pleased to announce that Esa-Pekka Salonen will become the Orchestra’s next Music Director, beginning in September 2020. As the San Francisco Symphony’s twelfth Music Director in its 107-year history, Salonen will succeed Michael Tilson Thomas, who concludes his remarkable 25-year tenure in July 2020. One of the most influential and creative forces in music, Salonen has, through his many high-profile conducting roles, work as a leading composer, and as an advocate for accessibility and diverse musical voices, shaped a unique vision for the present and future of the symphony orchestra.

In a flurry of interviews surrounding his appointment, Salonen reflected on why coming to the SFS was a “no brainer.”

On the San Francisco Symphony
“From the very first approach, the SFS leaders and musicians and I were buzzing with possibilities. The ‘what-ifs' of the orchestra world were suddenly on the table in a real way. 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.”

Building on MTT’s rich legacy
“[Esa-Pekka] is somebody who has that sense of the interesting mission that the West Coast has been on for a while, and he has certainly been a part of it,” Michael Tilson Thomas told the New York Times. “Our lives have been personally and musically intertwined for years and we share many musical values. We both deeply love music and the people who make the music. It will be a joy to collaborate with him on this bright future for the whole Symphony family.”

On the future of classical music in America
Our culture’s changing technological landscape offers unique opportunities for arts organizations. “[We] should be leading the way through all this, using all the possibilities that new technology offers without losing the integrity of the organization, which is, of course, to perform orchestral music—live performances for live people,” Salonen told the Mercury News.

A new artistic leadership model
Salonen and the SFS have enlisted a group of eight collaborative partners from a variety of cultural disciplines to embark on a future of experimentation. Here are the extraordinary artists, thinkers, and doers who comprise Salonen’s “think tank”: Pianist, film producer, and composer Nicholas Britell; soprano and curator Julia Bullock, who has made social consciousness and activism fundamental to her work; flutist, educator, and new music advocate Claire Chase; composer, new music curator, and member of The National Bryce Dessner; violinist and musical director Pekka Kuusisto; composer and genre-breaking collaborator Nico Muhly; artificial intelligence entrepreneur and roboticist Carol Reiley; and jazz bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding.

Read more at sfsymphony.org/salonen