SF Symphony announces new director

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The San Francisco Symphony introduced its new musical director on Wednesday to an enthusiastic crowd of classical music fans. 

Famed composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, 60, will begin a five year contract with the orchestra beginning in September 2020.

His hiring was announced with a video tribute lauding his artistic vision,  

He replaces Michael Tilson Thomas, a beloved director-conductor who is stepping down to devote more time to other creative projects. 

"I admire Michael and we share many of the same ideas," Salonen told KTVU after the presentation.

Tilson Thomas, or MTT as he is affectionately known, will be 75 years old, with 25 years at the symphony when he departs. 

"When I was a student in Finland, he was already having a world-wide career," said Salonen, "so I'm a big fan and if there are any similarities between us, I would be very happy about that."

Salonen led the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for 17 years, and currently helms the London Philharmonia Orchestra.

During a question and answer session led by symphony leaders, they exulted in his hiring, and the crowd gave Salonen a standing ovation as he was introduced. 

"Why San Francisco, why the San Francisco Symphony, at this stage of your illustrious career? " asked one board member. 

Salonen responded that it was the orchestra, foremost, that attracted him. 

He described the musicianship as first-rate and spirited, and said during guest stints at Davies Hall, he felt an almost instant connection with the ensemble. 

"It's hard to describe, but it's like they're with me, breathing with me, phrasing with me, and I don't have to explain."

The musicians say they felt it too, and consider Salonen their dream choice for the position. 

"There really is a strong chemistry with him," said violinist Melissa Kleinbart, a member of the Orchestra's Players' Committee. "It's just a feeling of trust that we know he has it covered." 

Salonen says he will push creatively, and is bringing on a team of artists from diverse genres to connect with the community in new ways. 

Tilson Thomas was not on hand for the event, away conducting in Los Angeles, but taped a video welcome that was part of a montage including Mayor London Breed and Golden State Warriors' coach Steve Kerr. 

"You're going to be amazing, congratulations, we're so happy for you, hope to see you at a game," enthused Kerr.  

On the video, a symphony musician in a Giants Jersey with "Salonen" across the back, offered an invitation. 

"We may have a position for you on the San Francisco Symphony softball team," he smiled.

But Salonen isn't likely to turn up at AT&T, or any ballpark. 

"I don't really understand the baseball rules so I don't follow it much, I'm more of an ice hockey guy," he told KTVU, appreciative of the clip with San Jose Sharks forward Antti Suomela, welcoming him in Finnish. 

As for a Sharks game in the future? "Totally," quipped Salonen. 

Salonen will be at the podium for a few symphony performances next month, and increase his appearances as he winds down his obligations elsewhere. 

"I want to get the hang of life here, the vibe, what it means to live in San Francisco," he told KTVU.
 "I very much like the idea of being a local. I'm conducting a local orchestra for the local people,  and I want to be a  local person myself."