Sakari Oramo to become BBC Symphony Orchestra chief conductor

The Finn, who has long championed British music, will first lift his baton in his new role at the 2013 Proms

The BBC Symphony Orchestra will go into the 2013 Proms with a new chief conductor, Sakari Oramo.

The Finn, 46, has been appointed chief conductor designate, replacing Jiri Belohlavek, who is returning to the Czech Philharmonic after five years with the BBCSO.

Oramo was picked for the job after launching the orchestra's cycle of Sibelius symphonies with a concert in October last year, which the Guardian's critic Andrew Clements said "worked to a wonderfully definitive climax".

Though the conductor spent nine years as music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony (CBSO), taking over from Simon Rattle, the Sibelius concert marked his debut with a London orchestra. Oramo is also chief conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. He is also in his final season as chief conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

In a statement, he said: "The orchestra [BBCSO] and I cherish many common values: aspiration, curiosity and a strong desire to work hard in order to achieve the highest possible artistic standards. Having served as music director of the CBSO for 10 seasons, I am delighted to be returning to the UK. I am planning to explore a wide range of repertory with the orchestra, notably also new aspects in the rich landscape of British music, present and past."

The conductor has long championed British music, winning the Elgar medal in 2008 after performing the composer's work across Europe with the CBSO. In 2007, he argued in the Guardian for Elgar's importance to the European classical music tradition, writing: "To me, Elgar doesn't represent the fusty, quintessential Englishman as pictured on the outgoing £20 banknote. Nor was he, as he is sometimes portrayed, a troubled genius hiding his uncertainty behind a melancholy grin in the shadow of his mighty moustache." He was awarded the OBE for services to music in 2009.

The classical music world greeted news of Oramo's appointment warmly. Stephen Maddock, chief executive of the CBSO and a former administrator of the Proms, described it as a brilliant appointment for both parties.

Maddock added: "He's fantastic at putting together big, imaginative projects, he's a great orchestra trainer, he's got a track record of working with British musicians and he's run a radio orchestra. His programmes in Birmingham went from Bach's St Matthew Passion to brand new pieces. He's one of the most versatile, top-flight conductors in the world, which is great for that role. The BBCSO has to be able to play almost everything."

Asked whether Oramo was a hard taskmaster, Maddock said: "He's a typical Finn – plain-speaking. He's demanding for the sake of the music, but he's a good colleague – it's not about ego."

Roger Wright, controller of Radio 3 and director of the Proms, said: "I'm thrilled that Sakari Oramo has agreed to become the next chief conductor in a line of distinguished artists who have led the orchestra throughout its creative life. His commitment to new work, British music and his first-rate interpretations of standard repertoire make him the perfect fit for the wide ranging work of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in its broadcast and public performances, not least at the Proms."

Oramo's first concert will be at the 2013 Proms at Royal Albert Hall, London.

• This article was amended on 24 February 2012. The original erred in quoting a speaker as saying that Sakari Oramo had a track record of working with British museums. This has been corrected to musicians.


Alex Needham

The GuardianTramp

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