Oct 14, 2014 Reetta Heiskanen
-Esa-Pekka Salonen, Principal conductor and artistic advisor of Philharmonia Orchestra in London and conductor laureate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic
When Esa-Pekka Salonen, a lauded composer and a world-renowned conductor, talks about the future of music and technology, his eyes light up.
For Salonen, music is the deepest way of connecting with the world. Classical music has survived over centuries – year after year people listen to the same works by Mozart, Beethoven and Bach.
Even though everybody knows these composers, classical music is still an area of expertise that many people find difficult to understand. But according to Salonen, technology enables new ways to produce and present classical music.
When Salonen was 10 years old he realised that classical music was something he felt very enthusiastic about. His first music teacher, who taught him to play the horn, had a great impact on Salonen’s life.
”He was the perfect authority. Before that I was probably a quite unpleasant young boy”, Salonen reflects.
Salonen, born in Helsinki, Finland, studied horn, composition and conducting in Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.
However, his international career as a world-renowned conductor started “quite suddenly”, as he reflects himself. In 1983, Salonen replaced Michael Tilson Thomas to conduct a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London on very short notice.
“After that night I suddenly had an international career. I was flying across the world and sleeping in five-star hotels in different cities. It was quite amazing for a young fellow”, Salonen states.
Salonen made his U.S conducting debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic just a year after.
Salonen has long embraced digital technology as a part of his creative process. In May 2014 Apple launched a new commercial for its iPad. In the commercial Salonen works on his violin concerto with the help of technology.
”I would not be able to live or work without technology. I can work with my iPad and then for example save the compositions to Dropbox. This way I can access my music wherever I am in the world”, Salonen states.
Salonen uses an iPad to translate everyday moments of inspiration into fully orchestrated scores. And most of all, to share his passion for classical music with others.
This is how Salonen also came up with the idea of an application, that would demystify the workings of an orchestra. Salonen and his colleagues in the Philharmonia developed an app for iPad called “The Orchestra”. The app helps people understand the different elements of an orchestra.
Since its launch, the app has conquered the world.
When Salonen talks about creativity, it seems like it is always very easy for him to compose and come up with new, magnificent ideas. Salonen admits that it is not always like that – sometimes creativity and inspiration do not happen naturally.
”I might go to my workroom with the feeling that this is not the day or time. But when I start repeating the routines I have, something always comes up. No need to open a bottle of wine at 11 am”, Salonen laughs.
Salonen considers himself a composer first, even though he has spent most of his career conducting. He also hopes to have more and more time to compose in the future. “Even if composing classical music is a slow process and sometimes very lonely”, Salonen reflects.
But the way Salonen describes the moment when he steps on stage and conducts, sounds mindblowing.
“You stand on the best spot in the concert hall. You feel this unbelievable connection with the orchestra and the audience. These are the moments in my life when I’m the least lonely.”
Salonen leads a group of 100 world class professionals who have spent their lives practicing privately and in various groups. How is it possible to get them play together so beautifully synchronised?
“When I was younger I thought I need to be in charge of everything and every single musician and their well-being and playing. When I have gotten older I have realised that I need to give musicians the space and responsibility they need”, Salonen states.
According to Salonen, an orchestra is like an ice hockey team. “When you bring them outside, away from the rink, you realise that they are all different personalities and they don’t always necessarily get that well along with each other. But when back at the rink, the leader has to have an idea of how to get the personalities work together as a team.”
In Salonen’s opinion he has always had that special skill to understand human dynamics. “When I now look back, I’m a bit terrified that I was a leader with so little experience. But I know that I have always had the certain skill that a good leader needs – I understand people”, Salonen reflects.
During the years Salonen has also learned to embrace other people’s talent. “I see my role as an enabler. I have learned that If I see and witness true talent, I will do my best to support it.”
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