Philharmonia announces final performances with Esa-Pekka Salonen as Principal Conductor

Esa-Pekka Salonen talking to Philharmonia players
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts final concerts as Principal Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra
  • First live Philharmonia concerts at Southbank Centre since March 2020, in socially distanced format
  • Pianists Mitsuko Uchida and Yefim Bronfman join Salonen for celebration of his 13-year tenure


On 4 and 10 June 2021, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the final concerts of his pioneering 13-year tenure as Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, at the end of a season disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the Philharmonia’s first live concerts at London’s Southbank Centre since the UK shutdown in March 2020, Salonen conducts a pair of programmes featuring two of the world’s greatest pianists, Yefim Bronfman and Mitsuko Uchida; the UK premiere of his own orchestral work FOG (a 90th birthday tribute to architect Frank Gehry); and music by Beethoven, Liszt, Stravinsky, Sibelius, and JS Bach.

Both orchestra and audience will be socially distanced for the two concerts, and they will be filmed for release online later in June.

Following these concerts and the end of the 2021/22 Season, Esa-Pekka Salonen will take up a new position as Conductor Emeritus, and his successor as Principal Conductor, fellow Finn Santtu-Matias Rouvali, will become only the sixth Principal Conductor in the Philharmonia’s 76-year history.

Salonen conducted the Philharmonia’s last concert before the lockdown: a Beethoven marathon at the Royal Festival Hall presented by Stephen Fry, on Sunday 15 March 2020. While he has conducted the Orchestra during the pandemic, in livestreamed concerts as well as pre-recorded Sessions released free on YouTube, there has been an unprecedented break of more than 450 days between live concerts in London.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, said: “This isn’t a goodbye. The relationship with the Philharmonia has been one of the most profound of my life, and the music-making together will carry on long into the future. I’ve said before that the Philharmonia and I have a shorthand — at rehearsals, we’re already swimming in the deep end of the pool—which has made our many performances often transcendent for me. This season wasn’t what anyone hoped for, but the Philharmonia’s talent, flexibility, and creativity made it best positioned to offer meaningful musical experiences. In a world filled with uncertainty, I am always certain of the Philharmonia.”

Alexander Van Ingen, Chief Executive of the Philharmonia Orchestra, said: “We are hugely excited to return to our home at the Southbank Centre for these two concerts for a real, live audience. It is bittersweet that after 13 glorious years, Esa-Pekka will be finishing his tenure as Principal Conductor at the end of a Season that wasn’t as we originally planned it. And yet, two wonderful programmes with Yefim Bronfman and Mitsuko Uchida are a superb way of marking the occasion with as many people as are allowed in the Royal Festival Hall, and before Esa-Pekka takes up his new role as the Philharmonia’s Conductor Emeritus.”

Kira Doherty, 2nd Horn and President of the Philharmonia Orchestra, said: “Salonen’s years at the helm of the Philharmonia have seen some of the most exceptional music-making of the orchestra’s history. As players, we have been deeply affected by his artistry, leadership and generosity of spirit during his time as principal conductor. It has been a great honour for us all to have shared the stage with such a giant of our time, and we are very much looking forward to continuing our relationship together in the years to come.”

Gillian Moore CBE, Director of Music & Performing Arts, Southbank Centre, said: “Esa-Pekka has been a bolt of energy in London’s cultural life. Since his arrival at the Philharmonia, he has inspired a fundamental re-thinking of what an orchestra can be. Looking back, whether it’s his extraordinary 2010 staged performances of Tristan & Isolde with Peter Sellars or bringing audiences into the middle of the orchestra through virtual reality, and so many landmarks since, Esa-Pekka has left an indelible imprint on the Southbank Centre. It’s been a privilege to be able to collaborate with him over the years.”

Salonen’s long creative relationship with the Philharmonia goes back to 1983, when he stepped in at short notice for Michael Tilson Thomas to conduct Mahler’s Third Symphony, at Southbank Centre. He became Principal Conductor of the Philharmonia in 2008, and leaves behind a transformational legacy.

A driving force behind the development of the Philharmonia’s specialism in using digital technology to open up the world of the orchestra to new audiences, Salonen led successful projects including travelling location-based audio-visual installations that have been visited by hundreds of thousands of people across the world; an app for iPad that has sold tens of thousands of copies; and virtual reality experiences that have placed audiences at the heart of a digital Philharmonia. Innovation in digital has continued despite the pandemic: immersive online experience Dream was delivered this spring in partnership with a consortium led by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

In the concert hall, chiefly at the Southbank Centre, Salonen has created a series of critically-acclaimed, visionary projects, distinctive for both their artistic scope and their depth of live and digital content. Projects including City of Dreams: Vienna 1900 -1935 (2009), Bill Viola’s Tristan und Isolde (2010), Infernal Dance: Inside the World of Béla Bartók (2011), City of Light: Paris 1900-1950 (2015), Stravinsky: Myths & Rituals (2016) and Weimar Berlin: Bittersweet Metropolis (2019) have been critically acclaimed.

Internationally, Salonen has led the Orchestra in a series of major tours and residencies in the music capitals of the world. In January 2020 the Philharmonia and Salonen had a residency at Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, featuring concerts that were voted the ‘Best of 2020’ by Japanese music magazine Ongaku No Tomo. In March 2019, a major US tour opened with a pair of concerts at Lincoln Center (“Under Salonen, the Philharmonia Shines” was the headline in The New York Times). The Philharmonia and Salonen were resident at the 2016 Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence.

The Philharmonia is grateful for funding from the Cultural Recovery Fund which has made these concerts possible.

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