As both a lauded composer and a world renowned conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen has a restless innovation that has marked him as one of the most important artists in classical music. The Boston Globe described his prestige as a composer and a conductor as displaying "a kind of complete musicianship rarely encountered today.” Salonen is currently the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor for London’s Philharmonia Orchestra and the Conductor Laureate for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he was Music Director from 1992 until 2009. His pieces Floof and LA Variations have become established modern classics. He continues to write new works and his compositions are widely performed throughout Europe, the United States and around the globe.
Trained in the austere world of European modernism and enjoying a close relationship with the sunny city of Los Angeles, Salonen composes works that move freely between contemporary idioms, combining intricacy and technical virtuosity with playful rhythmic and melodic innovations. Three major retrospectives of Salonen's original work have been heard by capacity audiences and received critical acclaim: at Festival Présences Paris, in 2011; at the Stockholm International Composer Festival in 2004; and at Musica Nova, Helsinki, in 2003. Salonen has completed several works for symphony orchestra, including Foreign Bodies (2001), commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Insomnia (2002), co-commissioned by Suntory Hall, Tokyo and Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Hamburg, and Wing on Wing, which received its world premiere at Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2004 and was a gift from the composer to the Los Angeles Philharmonic in honor of their new home. In 2007, Salonen conducted the New York Philharmonic in the first performance of his Piano Concerto, dedicated to Yefim Bronfman, who also premiered it. His Violin Concerto, which premiered with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Leila Josefowicz in 2009, won the 2012 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition.
Esa-Pekka Salonen's collaboration with the Philharmonia Orchestra, which has spanned more than 25 years, has been dominated by landmark multi-disciplinary festivals. In 2013, the Philharmonia Orchestra will mark the centenary of the birth of Witold Lutosławski, Salonen's mentor, with Woven Words: "Music begins where words end.” The year also marks another important centenary, that of the first performance of Stravinsky's iconic ballet The Rite of Spring. Salonen will be celebrating the work, leading the Philharmonia in performances at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris (where it premiered in 1913) as well as at the Royal Festival Hall in London almost one hundred years to the day it was first performed. This celebration comes on the heels of the award winning RE-RITE, created by Salonen and first exhibited in London in 2009. The digital residency allowed members of the public to conduct, play and step inside the Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen through audio and video projections of musicians performing The Rite of Spring. The program has traveled to Portugal, China, Turkey and Germany, and returns to London as part of the Rite of Spring Centenary in Spring 2013. In the fall of 2012, Salonen embarks on a tour with the Philharmonia through the United States, including a residency at University of California, Berkeley.
As the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 17 years, Salonen is widely credited with revitalizing the organization and bringing the idea of the symphonic orchestra into the 21st century. As Alex Ross of the New Yorker succinctly writes, "Salonen turned the Los Angeles Philharmonic into the most intellectually lively orchestra in America. … the metamorphosis of the Philharmonic was Salonen’s doing, and he thereby gained a place among the visionary conductors of American musical history." During his tenure, Salonen was instrumental in helping the orchestra to open their famed Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry. He also presided over countless premieres and contemporary work; began the Esa-Pekka Salonen Commissions Fund; made the Los Angeles Philharmonic one of the best attended and funded orchestras in the country, and became in the words of the Los Angeles Times an "open, communicative, imaginative artists—among the most beloved of our town and time." The genesis of many unique festivals and collaborations under his leadership of the Los Angeles Philharmonic included a production of Saint François d'Assise at the Salzburg Festival (1992), and a Stravinsky Festival together with Pierre Boulez at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris (1996).
Esa-Pekka Salonen is also an enthusiastic conductor of operatic works. In 2013, he will lead an anticipated new production of Strauss' Elektra directed by Patrice Chéreau at Aix-en-Provence Festival. A previous Chéreau/Salonen collaboration led to performances of the production of Janáček's From the House of the Dead in 2009 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera which The New York Times described as "a milestone." Elektra is a co-production with La Scala, Milano and The Metropolitan Opera, where it will appear in forthcoming seasons under his baton.
He is Artistic Director and confounder of the Baltic Sea Festival, an event that annually invites celebrated orchestras, conductors and soloists to promote unity and ecological awareness among the countries around the Baltic Sea. At the beginning of the 2010/11 season, Esa-Pekka Salonen began a residency at the Konzerthaus Dortmund. The project Expedition Salonen has woven his life as conductor, composer and creator into the fabric of the Konzerthaus Dortmund's artistic life over three consecutive seasons.
Salonen has an extensive recording career. His Violin Concerto, winner of the 2012 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition and premiered with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009, was released on Deutsche Grammophon with Leila Josefowicz in 2012; the disc also contains his orchestral work Nyx with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Deutsche Grammophon has also 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 and his works Helix and Dichotomie. The latter, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Yefim Bronfman, was nominated for a Grammy in 2009. A CD of five of his orchestral works is available on Sony. 2012 saw the release of the first ever recording of Shostakovich's previously undiscovered opera prologue Orango with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Salonen, on Deutsche Grammophon. In addition, a new album of one of Henri Dutilleux's most important works recorded with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in the presence of the composer will be released in 2012 on Deutsche Grammophon. In 2009, a new collaboration with the Philharmonia Orchestra's partner label Signum was launched with the release of a live recording of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder; other recent and forthcoming recordings with the Philharmonia on Signum include Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and Mahler's sixth and ninth symphonies. On Deutsche Grammophon, Salonen's recordings include a DVD of Kaija Saariaho's opera L'Amour de Loin (with the Finnish National Opera) as well as two CDs with Hélène Grimaud featuring works by Pärt and Schumann. His first recording with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon (Stravinsky's Rite of Spring – the first CD recording at Walt Disney Concert Hall) was nominated for a Grammy in 2007.
Salonen is the recipient of many major awards, including the UNESCO Rostrum Prize for his composition Floof in 1992 and the Siena Prize, given by the Accademia Chigiana in 1993; he is the first conductor ever to receive it. In 1995, he received the Royal Philharmonic Society's Opera Award and two years later the society's Conductor Award. Salonen was awarded the Litteris et Artibus medal, one of Sweden's highest honors, by the King of Sweden in 1996. In 1998, the French government awarded him the rank of Officier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Salonen was also honored with the Pro Finlandia Medal of the Order of the Lion of Finland. In 2003, the Sibelius Academy in Finland gave him an honorary doctorate and two years later Salonen won the Helsinki Medal. To date, Salonen has received seven honorary doctorates in four different countries. Musical America named him its Musician of the Year on 2006. He was elected as an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2010.