Finnish conductor and composer, Esa-Pekka Salonen take to the podium at Davies Symphony Hall this week in his first appearance with the San Francisco Symphony as the orchestra’s Music Director Designate. The program includes Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Metacosmos, Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra and Sibeliius’ Four Legends of the Kalevala
Esa-Pekka Salonen succeeds the charismatic and much-loved Michael Tilson Thomas when he takes his departure as Music Director of the Symphony in July 2020, at the end of an amazing 25-year tenure. Salonen – regarded as one of the most influential and creative forces in music – is a popular choice to succeed MTT. He made his debut as a conductor with the San Francisco Symphony in 2004, and led the Symphony on December 8th, 2011 – during its Centennial celebrations – in a performance which included his own violin concerto which he wrote for Leila Josefowicz, a concerto which featured in an international campaign for iPad. Maestro Salonen has made a number of return visits to the Symphony, most recently in 2015 with a program which included one of his own compositions, Nyx.
Esa-Pekka Salonen was Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1992 to 2009. Closely involved in the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, he established a Commissions Fund bearing his name, and was instrumental in enabling the Philharmonic to become one of the best attended and funded orchestras in the United States. He is now Conductor Laureate for the LA Philharmonic.
As Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor for London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, a position he leaves at the end of the 2020–21 season, Salonen was involved the orchestra’s award-winning RE-RITE and Universe of Sound installations, enabling people to virtually step inside the orchestra through audio and video projections. He was also behind the development of The Orchestra, an app for iPad, for which he conducted eight symphonic works, giving users access to multiple facets of orchestral performances.
Maestro Salonen is also currently Artist in Association at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet, Conductor Laureate for the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and co-founder of the annual Baltic Sea Festival, serving as its Artistic Director from 2003 to 2018. In 2015.
With Esa-Pekka Salonen’s commitment to bringing contemporary compositions into the classical repertoire, it comes as no surprise that this week’s concert opens with the West Coast Premiere of a work by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, entitled Metacosmos – described by The New York Times as a work with “seemingly boundless textural imagination”. Alan Gilbert – until recently Music Director of the New York Philharmonic – calls Ms Thorvaldsdottir “one of the most unique and expressive voices in the composition scene today”, and she has been described by New York Classical Review as “one of the most compelling contemporary composers”.
Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s work has been featured at several major venues and music festivals, including Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, the Leading International Composers series at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC, as well as the Kennedy Center in DC, Beijing Modern Music Festival, and Reykjavik Arts Festival.The one-movement Metacosmos, which was premiered in Lincoln Center’s Geffen Hall by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen last April, is described as “constructed around the natural balance between beauty and chaos”.
The opening of Richard Strauss’ tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra – next on the program – is probably best known today for its inclusion in the score of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Strauss drew his inspiration for this work from a series of parables about the life of the prophet Zarathustra by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, and dwelt on the vastness of the universe, prompting questions about God, humankind and our place in the natural world
The final work on the program is Sibelius’ Four Legends from the Kalevala, taken from his Lemminkäinen Suite. Written in 1895, this work was based on mythical legends from Finland’s folklore, telling of the exploits of Lemminkäinen, the handsome son of Lempi, the god of erotic love. At the premiere of the work on April 13, 1896, the first and third legends – Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of the Island, and Lemminkäinen in Tuonela – were poorly received. The second – The Swan of Tuonela (probably the best-known today) — and the last legend, Lemminkäinen’s Homeward Journey, were an instant success, and published in 1900. Sibelius put the other two pieces aside and they remained in a drawer until 1935, almost 10 years after he had stopped composing, with final revisions being made to them in 1939.
Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the San Francisco Symphony in a program of works by Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Richard Strauss and Jean Sibelius, from Friday, January 18th to Sunday, January 20th. For tickets and more information, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.