Esa-Pekka Salonen to step down as Philharmonia conductor

Award-winning orchestra will begin search for a sixth principal conductor ahead of Finn’s departure in 2021

The Philharmonia Orchestra has announced that Esa-Pekka Salonen is to step down from his role as principal conductor and artistic advisor at the end of the 2020-2021 season. The 60-year-old Finland-born conductor and composer has been with the London orchestra since 2008, when he took over from Christoph von Dohnányi. His successor – who has not yet been announced – will be only the sixth principal conductor in the orchestra’s 75-year history.

“The Philharmonia is a group that juxtaposes world-class talent and star-power with an ease of musical communication, personal warmth, risk-taking and always good humour,” said Salonen. “I do not say lightly that they are family, and I am honoured to be a part of what will be their fantastic future.”

Under his leadership, the orchestra has raised its profile and broadened its repertoire, excelling in early 20th-century music. It has also been at the forefront of imaginative and inclusive digital projects – its award-winning immersive installations, Re-Rite and Universe of Sound, gave audiences the opportunity to explore an orchestra section by section and experience music from a player’s point of view. More recently, virtual reality projects allowed those donning the goggles to get to the very heart of the orchestra and encounter symphonic music as if sitting under Salonen’s nose.

The Guardian’s classical critic Andrew Clements picked the Philharmonia’s Stravinsky series as one of his top musical events of 2016: “It stood out for its freshness and originality. Some of Stravinsky’s greatest and most neglected masterpieces were included, often in ingenious concert stagings, and if some of those did not work quite as convincingly as they might have done, the musical performances under Salonen were always of the highest quality.”

“Salonen set very high standards for the orchestra,” said the Guardian’s Martin Kettle. “He’s a terrific orchestral trainer and a brilliantly clear conductor in the Boulez tradition.”

The 2021 departure of Salonen means that two of London’s major orchestras, both based at the Southbank Centre, will be losing their chief conductors simultaneously: Vladimir Jurowski will also be stepping down from his position as the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s principal conductor and artistic advisor at the end of the 2020/21 season. The Philharmonia’s two principal guest conductors are currently the 33-year-old Finn Santtu-Matias Rouvali and the Czech-born Jakub Hrůša.


Imogen Tilden

The GuardianTramp

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