Esa-Pekka Salonen to leave San Francisco Symphony, citing dispute with orchestra’s board

By Associated Press |

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Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting in moody, darkly lit photo

Esa-Pekka Salonen (Photo: Minna Hatinen for Finnish National Opera and Ballet)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Esa-Pekka Salonen will leave the San Francisco Symphony following the 2024-25 season, just his fifth as music director, announcing his departure Thursday with a statement critical of the orchestra’s leadership.

“I do not share the same goals for the future of the institution as the board of governors does,” Salonen said in a statement.

Salonen was not discussing his decision beyond the statement, spokeswoman Amanda Ameer said.

The symphony board is chaired by Priscilla B. Geeslin, whose husband Keith Geeslin is president of San Francisco Opera. Matthew Spivey is in his first season as CEO after one year in an interim role. Orchestra spokeswoman Taryn Lott said Priscilla B. Geeslin and Spivey were not available to comment.

Salonen, who turns 66 in June, was hired in December 2018 to start with the 2020-21 season and follow the 25-year tenure of Michael Tilson Thomas. Salonen praised the orchestra, saying in his statement Thursday he is “proud to continue working with the world-class musicians.”

His departure creates yet another vacancy on a major U.S. podium.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has not announced a replacement for Riccardo Muti, who retired at the end of the 2022-23 season; the Los Angeles Philharmonic is looking for a successor to Gustavo Dudamel, who leaves after the 2025-26 season to head the New York Philharmonic; and Franz Welser-Möst will retire from the Cleveland Orchestra after the 2026-27 season. James Conlon said this week he will step down as Los Angeles Opera music director after the 2025-26 season.

The San Francisco Symphony announced Salonen’s departure as it released the schedule for his final season with the orchestra.

Salonen was principal conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1984-95 and music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1992-2009. He was principal conductor and artistic adviser for London’s Philharmonia from 2008-21.