Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Finnish composer and conductor, will succeed Michael Tilson Thomas as music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in the 2020-21 season, while Osmo Vänskä will conclude his 19-year tenure as music director of the Minnesota Orchestra in the 2021-22 season.
The 60-year-old Salonen led the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1992 to 2009, a period in which it became one of the preeminent US orchestras, performing in one of the country’s most lauded new concert venues, the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Hall. Since 2008, Salonen has been the principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, a post that he will relinquish in 2021.
He has guest-conducted widely, performing with many leading ensembles since he was in his mid-30s. He is especially in demand to conduct modern and contemporary music, and is the composer of a well-received body of orchestral works.
Vänskä, 65, a classmate of Salonen at the Sibelius Academy in Finland, took up the Minnesota post in 2003 after playing clarinet in and conducting several Finnish orchestras, and serving as chief conductor of the Iceland and BBC Scottish symphony orchestras.
During Vänskä’s years in Minneapolis, the Minnesota Orchestra developed into one of the finest in the US, its reputation bolstered by acclaimed recordings of the Beethoven and Sibelius symphonies. During a bitter labor dispute and closure, Vänskä temporarily stepped down as music director, taking the side of the locked-out musicians, and was a key figure in reaching a settlement of the dispute.
In 2015, he married Erin Keefe, the Minnesota Orchestra’s concertmaster.
Since he left the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Salonen has been deemed a prize catch to fill vacancies atop several major US orchestras; but until now he has resisted taking on the mixed artistic and administrative roles that American symphonic music directors are expected to play.
Salonen changed his mind and signed on with San Francisco, initially for five years, because of his rapport with its musicians and his perception that the orchestra is “an organization that is curious and interested and willing to look into the future – not in a reactive way, but wanting to be in the driver’s seat whatever the change may be,” he tells the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joshua Kosman: