Esa Pekka-Salonen, composer

Esa-Pekka Salonen studied horn, composing and conducting at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki during the 1970s, and composing with Niccolò Castiglioni and Franco Donatoni in Italy. He initially considered himself to be a conducting composer, until 1983, when he undertook a performance of Mahler’s third symphony with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London at short notice and became a composing conductor virtually overnight.

His orchestral works are regularly performed and broadcast all around the world, and Floof and LA Variations have become established as modern classics. Two major retrospectives of his work (in Helsinki in March 2003 at Musica Nova and in Stockholm in October 2004 at the Stockholm International Composer Festival) have been presented to huge audiences and received critical acclaim. A CD of five orchestral works is available on Sony. Deutsche Grammophon released a portrait CD of his orchestral works performed by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and conducted by the composer, as well as a CD with Salonen’s Piano Concerto nd his works Helix and Dichotomie (with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Yefim Bronfman who also premiered the Piano Concerto in New York).

Salonen’s first large scale orchestral work, Concerto, for saxophone and orchestra (‘…auf den ersten blick und ohne zu wissen…’), dates from 1980-81, when Salonen was studying in Milan with Niccolò Castiglioni. This was followed by Giro, which uses something of the same harmonic structure, and Floof, an experimental piece that sets texts by Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem. This ebullient and histrionic tour de force for soprano and small ensemble won the UNESCO Rostrum prize in 1992 and has been widely performed and broadcast in Europe and the US.

Ten years passed before Salonen had the time to complete another large-scale piece, although he did continue work on a series of solo works entitled Yta (surface), and a pair of virtuoso duos entitled Meeting and Second Meeting, the latter of which formed the basis for Mimo II for oboe and small orchestra, written in 1992.

In 1996, Salonen composed a major orchestral piece, LA Variations, which was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic (where he has been Music Director since 1992). The piece had a triumphant premiere in January 1997, and has since proven to be one of the most popular orchestral works of recent decades. LA Variations marked the start of a newly fertile composing life. In June 1997, Salonen made extensive revisions to Giro; the new version was premiered at the Avanti! Summer Sounds Festival in Finland. In 1998, he composed another orchestral work, Gambit, as a 40th birthday present for his compatriot and friend Magnus Lindberg; this was followed a year later by Five Images After Sappho, a song-cycle for soprano and ensemble co-commissioned by the Ojai Festival California and the London Sinfonietta.

In 2000, Salonen composed the Concert Etude for solo horn, Dichotomie for solo piano, the cello concerto Mania for Anssi Karttunen and London Sinfonietta, and his first choral work Two Songs to Poems of Ann Jäderlund for the Swedish Radio Choir.

The virtuosic Stockholm Diary for string orchestra was commissioned by the Stockholm Concert Hall Foundation for the Stockholm Phiharmonic Orchestra and Stockholm Chamber Orchestra to mark the occasion of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Composer Portrait at the Konserthuset in Stockholm October 2004.

In recent years, Salonen has completed further works for symphony orchestra – Foreign Bodies (2001), commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Insomnia (2002), co-commissioned by Suntory Hall, Tokyo and Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Hamburg, Wing on Wing (2004), which received its world premiere at Walt Disney Concert Hall in June 2004 and was a gift from the composer to the Los Angeles Philharmonic in honour of their new home, and Helix (2005), which was commissioned by the BBC Proms. In February 2007, Salonen conducted the New York Philharmonic in the first performance of his first piano concerto, dedicated to Yefim Bronfman, who also premiered it. This concerto was co-commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, the BBC, Radio France, and NDR Hamburg. Its first European performance took place at the BBC Proms in London in July 2007. In early 2008, the Johannes String Quartet premiered Salonen’s string quartet Homunculus and in April 2009, his violin concerto written for Leila Josefowicz was premiered in Los Angeles. Salonen’s most recent works were commissioned as part of the Présences Festival in Paris in February 2011 – Dona Nobis Pacem for unaccompanied children’s choir and a new work for orchestra Nyx which will receive further performances in next season from its co-commissioning group – Carnegie Hall, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Barbican Centre and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.