Today’s announcement of Esa-Pekka Salonen as music director of the San Francisco Symphony came as no great surprise. About a dozen people knew about it a couple of days ago and three of them leaked it to Slipped Disc, spiking the SFSO’s best-laid publicity plans with first news of the signing.
Salonen loves the West Coast and lives there much of the time since stepping down at the LA Phil in 2009. The new job keeps him close to his principal cheerleader and the orchestra should respond well to his slightly quirky repetorial challenges.
The only surprise is that he has hardly conducted them before. How much the players were consulted is not being widely discussed.
So what’s in it for both sides?
The San Fran Symphony get a ready-made maestro with worldwide name recognition. It can expect a higher profile from Carnegie Hall to Beijing and a revamped repertoire. Those who imagined SFSO might skip a generation or two and go for a supercharged young conductor clearly don’t know how the money flows in San Francsico.
Salonen is the best deal they can get.
What’s in it for him? A huge salary, which he has missed since leaving LA; a guaranteed stream of commissions to boost his composing output; as much time as he needs to nurture his Finnish roots (he’s conducting a very long Ring cycle in Helsinki); and a secure job with which to end his career.
This is a solid act of music business. I don’t see it as a new beginning.