Esa-Pekka Salonen | Photo by Andrew Eccles/San Francisco Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony just revealed a long-awaited, and much-speculated, announcement: Esa-Pekka Salonen will be the next Music Director for the San Francisco Symphony, beginning in 2020. In honor of the big news, members of the KDFC staff are sharing their thoughts below. We’ll also be on hand at the official announcement party and you can follow along all the excitement on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Listen to our coverage on KDFC’s The State of the Arts here and read more below.

From KDFC’s Rik Malone – who is also the voice of the SFS radio broadcasts and podcasts:

He’s got some very innovative ideas about enhancing the concertgoing experience, or adding different kinds of experiences, but that doesn’t mean that he’s ready to junk the traditional concert model. In fact, he knows how valuable it can be in today’s world – to a point.

“…once you become accustomed to this curious ritual, you often develop a liking for it. It’s a relief. You’re not checking your cell phone ten times an hour. It’s almost like a mindfulness exercise. You can let your mind wander or you can focus intensely or you can associate freely. The ritual itself has power. Also the fact that there’s this master of ceremonies, the priest or priestess of whatever the cult is—the conductor. But we need different avenues of approach. We need different ways for people to have these sorts of conversion experiences, not to get too carried away with the religious thing.”

Esa-Pekka Salonen with Rik Malone | Photo by Jeffrey Freymann

From KDFC Arts Producer Jeffrey Freymann:

‘Passing the baton’ to a new Music Director is always a tricky situation – all the more so in having to step up to the podium where Michael Tilson Thomas has been for a quarter century. But Esa-Pekka Salonen brings a career-long enthusiasm and curiosity for all kinds of music, and a wide range of interests that guarantee an interesting tenure ahead. The announcement comes as a surprise, given his backing away from conducting over the past few years to spend more time on composing. But the timing and chemistry appear to have been right, and he’ll be starting here in September of 2020. (Audiences will have a sneak peek in mid-January when he conducts a concert of works by Sibelius, Richard Strauss, and Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir.) His slightly reluctant splash into the world of conducting came when he was a last-minute substitute for an ill Michael Tilson Thomas, leading the Mahler Symphony Number 3 with the Philharmonia Orchestra.

On a personal note, in early December of 2011, one of the very early days of my working at KDFC, and before I really knew what was involved, I was called upon to step in for Rik Malone to do a post-concert talk at the Symphony. Feeling a bit out of my depth – and out of my element – on stage at Davies Symphony Hall, I was very lucky that the two people I was speaking with were Esa-Pekka Salonen and Leila Josefowicz. She had just played the violin concerto that Salonen had written for her, and for which (it had just been announced) he had been awarded the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. He did much of the conversational heavy lifting – after already wearing the hats of both composer and guest conductor that evening. I was much impressed by his conducting (it was the first time I’d seen him in person) as well as the ease with which he spoke about his own work and thoughts on music, and how he engaged with the audience members who stayed for the talk.

From host of the KDFC Homestretch, Robin Pressman:

He’s clearly a happy choice for those of us in the classical music world who have worked with him, watched him perform, or heard his music. But for anyone who hasn’t had that lucky opportunity yet, one might have been intrigued by his star turn in a television ad for Apple’s iPad. In the spot we see him as a regular guy, whistling a melody while shaving (from the violin concerto he wrote for Leila Josefowicz ), then editing it on his tablet: in a train station, on a street corner, standing by a frozen lake… taking us from first inspiration rehearsing with Josefowicz and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Looking forward to more creative ways Salonen might reach out to new audiences!

From KDFC’s Chief Engagement Officer, Gail Eichenthal:

What a coup! I’ve been a fan of Salonen’s since he made his American debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1984. He was 26, and made such a powerful impression that he was soon offered the music directorship of the orchestra, though he was little known in the U.S. at that time (He actually began his 17-year tenure in 1992.)

So as the former longtime host of the LA Phil radio broadcasts, I had the privilege of closely observing his rise to the top of the classical world as both conductor and composer. His absolute mastery of a wide range of repertoire, his openness to new musical ideas, and his fearlessness in exploring new ways of engaging audiences makes him an extraordinary choice to fill the very big shoes of Michael Tilson Thomas. He is also a renowned composer, and the San Francisco Symphony will no doubt have the honor of introducing many of his future scores.

Like MTT, Salonen is a riveting speaker on music. Back when I interviewed him for that American debut, he was quite shy, and his English was spotty. Today his command of the language far surpasses my own (though it was at a minimum his 5th language!). Over the years he has likewise become a vivacious and incisive commentator from the stage, peppering his remarks with cutting, often self-deprecating humor. I can’t wait to see what magic he creates with our great orchestra.

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