Photograph by Benjamin Suomela

Esa-Pekka Salonen, acclaimed Finnish conductor and current Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic, reflects on his upbringing in Finland and how it influenced his musical development and process with Justin Davidson, Pulitzer Prize-winning classical music and architecture critic, New York Magazine.

Esa-Pekka Salonen has a restless innovation that marks him as one of the most important artists in classical music. Salonen is the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra and Conductor Laureate for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he was Music Director from 1992 until 2009. This season will find him as the Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic, a three-year position. He is Artistic Director and cofounder of the annual Baltic Sea Festival, which invites celebrated artists to promote unity and ecological awareness among the countries around the Baltic Sea.

Salonen takes the Philharmonia Orchestra to the Edinburgh International Festival, the BBC Proms, on tour in Switzerland and France, and will lead the Myths and Rituals festival, an exploration of Stravinsky’s work that continues into next season. He will make guest appearances with the North German and Bavarian radio symphony orchestras; the New York, Vienna, and Los Angeles philharmonics; the Orchestre de Paris; the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the joint forces of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, united for the first time, in addition to conducting Strauss’s Elektra at the Metropolitan Opera and Bartók’s Le Château de Barbe-Bleue and Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine at the Paris Opera.

Salonen’s work combines intricacy and technical virtuosity with playful rhythmic and melodic innovations. His pieces for symphony orchestra include LA Variations (1996), Foreign Bodies (2001), Insomnia (2002), Wing on Wing (2004), and Nyx (2011), as well as two concertos: for pianist Yefim Bronfman and for violinist Leila Josefowicz. The latter was awarded the prestigious Grawemeyer Award and was featured in a 2014 international Apple ad campaign for iPad. In 2014 the Tonhalle Zurich Orchestra, where he was the first-ever Creative Chair, premiered Karawane for orchestra and chorus, to great acclaim. Karawane will be performed this season by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the New York Philharmonic. Salonen and the Philharmonia have curated landmark multi-disciplinary projects, such as the award-winning RE-RITE and Universe of Sound installations, which allow the public to conduct, play, and step inside the Philharmonia with Salonen through audio and video projections. Salonen also drove the development of an app for iPad, The Orchestra, which allows the user unprecedented access to the internal workings of eight symphonic works.

Justin Davidson has been the classical music and architecture critic at New York magazine since 2007. Most recently, he co-authored the magazine’s Global Urban Design issue, writing an article on the lessons New York could learn from cities around the world. Before that, he spent 12 years as classical music critic at Newsday, where he also wrote about architecture and was a regular commentator on cultural issues.He won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2002, and an American Society of Newspaper Editors criticism (ASNE) award. A native of Rome, Davidson graduated from Harvard University and later earned a doctoral degree in music composition at Columbia University.

He has contributed to The New Yorker, W., Travel and Leisure, the Los Angeles Times, Slate, and Salon, is a regular columnist for the website emusic, and has appeared on WNYC, NPR, and German radio programs.

Davidson is a member of the faculty of the Design Criticism program at the School of Visual Arts and has also taught in the Goldring Arts Journalism Program of Syracuse University and the NEA’s annual Arts Journalism Institutes.