Just in: Esa-Pekka breaks the mould of San Francisco season

Just in: Esa-Pekka breaks the mould of San Francisco season


norman lebrecht

February 18, 2020

This is the most innovative of his ideas in today’s season announcement:

Collaborative Partners: A New Artistic Leadership Model
In their inaugural season together, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony introduce a new artistic leadership model new to the orchestral world, anchored by an extraordinary group of eight Collaborative Partners from a variety of cultural disciplines. This group of visionary artists, thinkers, and doers will join with Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony to embark on a future of experimentation by collaborating on new ideas, breaking conventional rules, and creating unique and powerful experiences.

The San Francisco Symphony’s Collaborative Partners comprise composer and pianist Nicholas Britell; classical vocalist and curator Julia Bullock, who has put social consciousness at the forefront of her work; flutist, educator, and creator of new and experimental music Claire Chase; composer, guitarist, and co-founder of The National Bryce Dessner; violinist, musical director, and artistic trailblazer Pekka Kuusisto; composer and multi-faceted collaborator Nico Muhly; artificial intelligence entrepreneur and roboticist Carol Reiley; and jazz bassist, vocalist, and undefinable artist Esperanza Spalding.

“I’ve never achieved anything on my own. Every achievement that I’m really proud of has been a result of collaboration,” says Esa-Pekka Salonen. “This art form that we all love and respect needs new thinking, fresh thoughts and ideas, new ways to involve the community, and different ways to enhance the experience. I’m looking to create a different kind of framework, and these wonderfully creative people in the team will help me in that process.”

“This is the first time that I know of where a major arts institution is implementing such a democratic mode of making decisions,” says Julia Bullock. “Instead of just a few people contributing their voices to what repertoire is being presented to audiences, how it’s being presented, and how the community will be engaging with the work, now those decisions will be coming from many places. I believe that in addition to Esa-Pekka and those of us who have been named collaborators, every single person who is behind the scenes at the San Francisco Symphony is going to have an important role to play in influencing this change in institutional dynamics.”


  • Doktorfaust says:

    That committee is the perfect combination for a disaster.

    • Jay says:

      If you read carefully the statement by Salonen and
      Bullock mean absolutely nothing.
      It is all baloney writ large.

    • JP says:

      Tell us who you are, what you do and what qualifies you to make that statement. Otherwise, you might just come across as a cowardly troll.

  • anon says:

    “Julia Bullock, who has put social consciousness at the forefront of her work;” In other words, politics masquerading as bad music.

    • Barry says:

      My eyes almost rolled out of their sockets when I read that line.
      What does it have to do with music-making?

    • nimitta says:

      You obviously haven’t heard her sing. Her Boston recital last season was superb.

    • sam says:

      “politics masquerading as bad music.”

      You mean like the Eroica Symphony, dedicated to Napoleon?

      Look, the best of composers did address head on the political issues of their times, from Beethoven to Verdi to Shostakovich to Adams to….

      So it isn’t the code word of the day that is troubling, or the explicitly politicized intentions of the composer.

      • There is a conception that the arts actually changed and influenced politics. I argue that the exact opposite is the case. Beethoven is responding to Napoleon both positively and negatively but he has zero political influence. You will note that there isn’t one mention of politics in any of Beethoven’s letters. Shostakovich addressed Stalin “head-on?” If he had, he would’ve been packed off to the Gulag. All these composers worked obliquely and were trying to fool the censors. Identity politics will destroy the arts if they are allowed to find a home therein. This panel smacks of identity politics from top to bottom which is why many of use are rolling their eyes. The foundation of great art is truth and the truth of identity politics is like shifting sand. The truth of the composers you mentioned found it’s political equivalent in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights and the subsequent governments which followed and are based on the intrinsic value of the individual. The work has been done but it’s up to us to apply it with equality and justice and for all. “That” has not been accomplished and a panel of cultural elites in the most elitist city in the world isn’t going to move the needle, in my opinion.

    • Emil says:

      “Ludwig van Beethoven, whose Emperor concerto put politics at the forefront of his work”
      “Handel, whose Coronation Anthems put politics at the forefront of his work”
      “Verdi, who… Wagner, who… Gershwin, who… John Adams, who…

    • Bruce says:

      Yes, because being socially conscious necessarily entails being a bad musician.

  • Tom says:

    Will meetings be ticketed events, open to the public?

  • Barry says:

    And I thought we had problems in Philly.

  • MacroV says:

    Sounds promising. Now they need a Digital Concert Hall or equivalent so the rest of the world can see what’s happening there.

  • PCLab says:

    This was concocted in a politically correct lab. This will help their audience further atrophy but the mainstream classical press will love it!

  • Anthony M. Gigliotti says:

    Will they be playing any music with a melody?

  • Caranome says:

    Just like a camel, which is reputedly designed by a committee, it isn’t good in anything, except in virtue or hipness signalling of “new, collaborative, accessible, social conscience, reaching out to diverse audiences…” But sir, how’s the music?

  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    Will he be splitting his fee 9 ways or has the development department been given new goals?

  • Monsoon says:

    I’m not following what exactly they’ll be doing.

    I assume it’s purely limited to programming — they’re not going to weigh in on auditions, for example.

  • Couperin says:

    Well, that sounds awful.

  • fflambeau says:

    The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has had a number of collaborative artists for a number of years now. I don’t see much new here.

  • Hmus says:

    What on earth is a classical “vocalist?” Why not just state soprano or whatever?

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Before the usual negative commenters on this blog go nuts, let’s all take a breath and give this collaboration a chance. It might very well succeed brilliantly. Or not…. but let’s wait a bit to find out.
    Personally, as a resident of San Francisco, I’m eager to see what Esa-Pekka will do to put his own stamp on the SF Symphony after so many (in my opinion, positive) years of MTT.

  • Olassus says:

    Well, he never could rely on his Mozart or Tchaikovsky.

  • fflambeau says:

    Much more exciting, in my opinion, is the season in SF with perhaps the biggest lineup of all stars I’ve seen anywhere:

    Sir James Galway, Joshua Bell, Murray Perahia, Helene Grimaud, Yefim Bronfman, Yuja Wang, MTT (conducting returning concerts), Renee Fleming, Igor Levit, Gil Shaham, Anne Sophie Mutter, Michael Morgan (guest conductor), Gidon Kremer, City of Birmingham Orchestra, Rudolf Buchbinder, Bernadette Peters, the China Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, Alisa Weilerstein, Chick Corea, Emanuel Ax, Bach Collegium Japan, Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra, Itzhak Perlman, Herbert Blomstedt, Daniil Trifinov, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Daniel Harding Vikingur Olafsson, Ha-Na Chang (conductor), and, of course, Lang Lang. And those are just a few of the performers.

    • Jay says:

      Not one listed above falls into category of “must
      hear at all cost” as the event of the season.The fiddle players alone are one big bore.
      Lang Lang ? spare us…..

    • Dave T says:

      Please be well enough to perform, Murray.

    • A Pianist says:

      You and I are very different. I have been so disappointed in the programming since I moved to SF. That is the most unimaginative generic bunch of A listers I could dream up. I read the brochure through and I didn’t buy a single SF Symphony ticket this season. Wake me when they bring in some edgy, quirky or otherwise interesting people.

  • M2N2K says:

    Don’t you worry about EPS: he is an extremely intelligent and knowledgeable person who knows what he is doing. He certainly has enough reasons to be confident that ultimately he will remain the one making all of the most important final artistic decisions. He simply wants to be receiving suggestions and ideas from people with expertise in various musical fields as well as an opportunity to use their connections with other leading artists in those fields. All this talk about collective decision-making should not be taken too literally.

    • fflambeau says:

      So, it’s all a charade. One person making the decisions with windowdressing? Back to Toscanini.

      • M2N2K says:

        For those of us who know EPS well, this is no “charade” at all: simply a person blessed with a brilliant mind and nearly encyclopedic knowledge who, unlike many commenters here, is aware of his limitations while being confident in his abilities – and therefore welcomes input from superbly talented artists who reside in different yet closely related musical realms. After managing to miraculously maintain high quality of playing in spite of their outgoing music director’s various shortcomings for a full quarter of a century, fine musicians of SFS certainly deserve to once again have a truly professional conductor on their podium. Besides, Arturo Toscanini is currently unavailable.

  • mary says:

    Is Essa Pekka spitting his salary 9 ways?

    lol, he’s found the best work-life balance, split your job with 8 other people but keep your entire paycheck!

  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    Have you heard E-P S conduct Brahms ? It’s not great
    He needs gimicks like this to keep afloat