Inside tip: Esa-Pekka was never offered the New York Philharmonic

Inside tip: Esa-Pekka was never offered the New York Philharmonic


norman lebrecht

April 04, 2016

The Hollywood actress Holly Hunter has been telling Finnish television how sorry she is that the New York Philharmonic failed to sign Esa-Pekka Salonen as its next music director. ‘We didn’t get him, darn it,’ she says, hand clutched to heart.

Holly speaks on this video at 2:40. She calls him ‘one of the most brilliant conductors in the world’.

But here’s the nub.

Sipped Disc hears from an impeccable source that the New York Philharmonic never made a formal offer to Esa-Pekka to be its music director. After months of hype and a high level of support from the players, NY Phil president Matthew Van Besien did not put an offer to the conductor and his agent.

When no terms were offered, Esa-Pekka announced in two interviews that he wasn’t up for the job. That’s how New York lost him. Now it can be told.

Esa-pekka-salonen sky arts


  • Emil Archambault says:

    Lost him, or never wanted him in the first place? What tells us that NYPhil management wanted him?

  • La Verita says:

    There’s no story whatever here: What part of the phrase “Esa-Pekka Salonen doesn’t want another Music Director’s job” isn’t clear? Van Besien had better things to do than to chase after conductors who don’t want the job.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Indeed – I haven’t seen any evidence that the NY Phil wanted Salonen and/or that Salonen wanted NY. The will of musicians is only one part of the puzzle; in this case, the truth is that there might be no puzzle at all.

    • Max Grimm says:

      You’ll have to excuse him, Verita….it’s been such a long time since 2007 and 2008, when Esa-Pekka Salonen first went on record as not wanting another (American) music directorship.

  • Bruce says:

    I know that the NY Times was plumping for Salonen even as they acknowledged that he’d gone on record as saying he wasn’t interested. I think they thought he was just being coy. Really they wouldn’t shut up about it until this article … in January.

    I guess that article could still leave open the question “yes, but did they OFFER it to him?” for those who care.

    (Oh, and BTW player support for a candidate tends to mean very little in music-director searches.)

    • Emil Archambault says:

      The article says nothing about whether the NYPhil wanted Salonen. It says that some musicians liked him and might have wanted him, that critics wanted him, that Gilbert seemed to like him, that there were rumours, but nothing else. All the rest is about Salonen’s perspective.

    • NYMike says:

      “(Oh, and BTW player support for a candidate tends to mean very little in music-director searches.)”

      Not exactly true in the NYPO’s case. The players wanted Maazel because of his admirable stick and his aversion to over-rehearsing.

      • Peter says:

        And from this we learn (again) that the musician’s opinion who the most desirable next chief conductor should be must always be understood in context and never be taken literally prima face.

  • herrera says:

    Holly Hunter was doing a promo on Batman vs. Superman in Finland, when out of the blue, she brought up Esa Pekka Salonen, for no other apparent reason than to impress the interviewer I guess (who in turn reveals her apartment is near HIS, but I digress…)

    And so here we are rehashing the Salonen – NY Phil debate on Mr. Lebrecht’s blog…just because Holly Hunter didn’t want to talk about Ben Affleck (who played the eponymous Batman, though she DID talk about Jesse Eisenberg who played Lex Luthor, Superman’s archenemy, but again, I digress…)

    Who knew Holly Hunter was such a opinion shaper in the world of classical music.

  • Ross says:

    Ok, Holly Hunter is an actress.
    What is the connection? Is she on the Board of The New York Philharmonic?
    What does Lindsey Lohan think of all this?

    • Max Grimm says:

      “What does Lindsey Lohan think of all this?”
      Assuming she is sober enough to think in coherent patterns, she is probably wondering who or what Esa-Pekka Salonen and the New York Philharmonic are.

  • Michael B. says:

    I seriously doubt that the New York Philharmonic was ever really considering Esa-Pekka Salonen. The scuttlebutt (and, to be fair, I do not have clear evidence) is that Alan Gilbert was gently eased out because the powers that be were dissatisfied with his repertoire choices and wanted someone more in tune with the preferences of the notoriously conservative NYPO subscribers. Even Carl Nielsen was too radical for that crowd, not to mention Christopher Rouse, Magnus Lindberg, or György Ligeti. There is no way that Salonen, David Robertson, or Susanna Mälkki, just to mention a few other names thrown around, would have had any chance to get the job in that context. They wanted a return to the old-time stodginess, and they got it, Frankly, they have become so risk-averse that they make a municipal bond trader look like a bomb-throwing radical. That is not the way to make the orchestra relevant to the intellectual life of New York.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There may be good reasons why NY audiences prefer a repertoire that in almost all respects is the complete opposite of the city’s profile as the hub of western modernity. Maybe they prefer some welcome humanity to a mere reflection of their daily surroundings.

      The new MD of the orchestra has done a lot of contemporary music though, which seems to have escaped all those critics who find him ‘too traditional’, both in Dallas, Hong Kong and Amsterdam where he has done a lot of premières, always of a quite modern kind. That a conductor can also be very good at Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and Wagner AND likes to do new music, seems to be too out of the ordinary to be noticed. There is ‘old’ repertoire which is contemporary forever because of its aesthetic and emotional appeal. Maybe the NY audience simply has a good instinct for quality.

    • Ross says:

      That depends on whaf you think people find relevant and nourishing.
      Something that is relevant to a small niche audience, and to a loud critic, may be completely irrelevant and unsatisfying to the masses of paying classical music lovers.

      • John Borstlap says:

        …. Indeed. In music criticism, the concept of ‘relevance’ is often used in an ideological, not in an artistic sense. One never reads about the relevance of Bach’s (extraordinary) St Matthew Passion or Chopin’s (extraordinary) Polonaise-Fantasie, but quite often about music which has to be ‘sold’ on other than artistic grounds.

  • M2N2K says:

    If they really wanted ESP they could’ve had him and the same goes for Manfred Honeck. Both of these maestros declared their “disinterest” in NYPhil job at almost exactly the same time – just a couple of days before the big announcement about JvZ was made. That tells me that both of them were intentionally made aware at that time by NY management that they were not going to be offered the job, in order to give them opportunity to bow out more or less gracefully. The timing made it all very transparent.

    • steinwayfanatic says:

      Can’t you read? Salonen went on record YEARS AGO saying he didn’t want another music directorship. The man is a composer, and he wants to compose, period. But Salonen & Robertson were Anthony Tommasini’s dream-choices, so he generated the hype to bully these boys into wanting the job, and to bully the NYPO into pursuing them, as apparently Tommasini believes that the NY Times can bully everyone to do his bidding. It was a stupid thing to do, and it backfired miserably. And let’s face it, WHO wants to be MD of an orchestra that is about to be homeless for 2 years, and then God-only-knows what Geffen Hall will sound like after the renovation? (Hey, they got it wrong twice…)

      • John Borstlap says:

        Answer: conductors who like challenges and unusual trajectories to fulfill, people with an unconventional personality, avoiding routine.

      • Ross says:

        They seriously should drop that guy. His “reviews” are so predictable and he completely misses the boat.
        I would RE-subscribe if the NYT had a proper team of music critics.

      • M2N2K says:

        We can all read and some of us can even understand occasionally what we are reading. Not being interested in pursuing a certain kind of conducting job does not exclude a very real possibility of becoming interested when a particular conducting job is pursuing a particular conductor with the right kind of offer. That is why “never say never” applies to conductors too. Sure he is a composer, but, as we all know, so were several MDs of NYPhil in the past. Besides establishing a rather strong tradition there, it also proves that those two occupations are not mutually exclusive at all.

  • Respect says:

    If the conspiracy theorists are correct, and Honeck and Salonen were not under consideration, despite the informed speculation, it is a sad comment on the taste of the Zphilharmonic. Then again, they passed on Jansons for Maazel…….

  • herrera says:

    Breaking News: New York lost Karajan

    It was revealed by a reliable inside source that the New York Philharmonic never made a formal offer to Karajan. And that’s how NY lost Karajan.

    Exclusive tomorrow: How New York lost Sir Simon Rattle

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Salonen- ‘one of the most brilliant conductors in the world’. I hardly think so- certainly not in the core Austro- German repertoire where the results are frequently awful of which he has little empathy. Good at contemporary music however and anything with multiple time signatures- his excellent technique is suited too

  • Graeme Hall says:

    Tall poppy syndrome strikes again! A common feature of the posts on this site.

  • Gary says:

    He probably was just not interested in what Jim Svejda calls “the world’s crappiest orchestra.”

    • John Kelly says:

      Jim Svejda is wrong, they can be a very fine orchestra, they just play in the world’s crappiest hall.

  • Respect says:

    Well, if Svejda says it, it MUST be true…….