Salonen: the finale I, with Yefim Bronfman Esa-Pekka Salonen – conductor • Yefim Bronfman – piano



The hall’s muffled murmur as seats fill up. String players tuning to concert pitch. Lights gently dimming, that deep silence just before it starts.

We’ve been dreaming of this moment for a very long time. After over a year, it means the world to us to welcome you back into our London home for an evening of live music.

And what an evening: this is the first our concerts marking Esa-Pekka Salonen’s farewell as Principal Conductor, after 13 years at the helm of the Philharmonia. He has chosen music close to his heart for this programme: symphonies by Beethoven and Sibelius, two constants in his career, frame Liszt’s endlessly creative Piano Concerto No. 2, and Stravinsky’s mystical Symphonies of Wind Instruments. Esa-Pekka is joined on stage by renowned pianist and long-time collaborator Yefim Bronfman, whose warmth and larger-than-life presence are a perfect match for the Liszt.

Thank you for joining us and we hope you enjoy the performance. During the interval or after the concert, do share your thoughts on social media tagging us @Philharmonia.

Header image: Esa-Pekka Salonen © Mark Allan

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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827): Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21 (c. 1795 – 1800)

  1. Adagio molto – Allegro con brio
  2. Andante cantabile con moto
  3. Menuetto and Trio: Allegro molto e vivace
  4. Adagio – Allegro molto e vivace

A wise man once said that it’s impossible to tell in what order Beethoven wrote his nine symphonies just by listening. There are three exceptions to that rule: the last symphony, and the first two. In the early symphonies, Beethoven’s music had yet to assume the revolutionary scale and intent of No. 3 onwards. The first two are audibly born of the mannered, 18th-century world of Haydn and Mozart.

Still, this is music that wants to expand and explore. Beethoven was an artist who sensed the arrival of a new era of heroism and passionate gesture. Even in the first two symphonies, we can hear him getting there.

Beethoven’s first genuinely accomplished piece of symphonic architecture has always fascinated conductors, especially those who, like Esa-Pekka Salonen, also compose themselves.

The First Symphony was written for inclusion in a concert on 2 April 1800. Haydn, who had nine years to live, would have recognised the size of Beethoven’s orchestra – as well as his symphony’s concessions to polite civility and a generally courtly style.

Otherwise, there are telling signs of the bashful, individual Beethoven – and from the first bar. The Symphony launches with a discord: a suggestive ‘dominant seventh’ that isn’t even in the home key of C major. After a slow introduction, a bustling musical conversation takes root. It is based on the series of short figures heard on strings as soon as the speed picks up.

Those short figures stand up remarkably well to musical expansion and development that take them far beyond their substance. Beethoven acknowledges Haydn’s ability to build big structures from short musical ‘cells’, while foreshadowing his own transformation of that technique.

Ludwig van Beethoven in 1796, aged 26 (public domain)

The music quickly assumes symphonic proportions and even starts to embody Beethoven’s characteristic energy and ebullience – prone to sudden changes in key and mood and to off-beat, insistent rhythmic techniques.

The musicologist Donald Francis Tovey referred to Beethoven’s First as “a comedy of manners”. There are plenty of gestures to support that description. They include a third movement Minuet made to sound like a jokey Scherzo (with prominent use of drums), and the hesitance with which the violins are coaxed like sheep into the final movement, which proceeds to embody the playful spirit of Haydn.

Beethoven’s first genuinely accomplished piece of symphonic architecture has always fascinated conductors, especially those who, like Esa-Pekka Salonen, also compose themselves.

Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886): Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major (1839 – 1861)

Adagio sostenuto assai – Allegro agitato assai – Allegro moderato – Allegro deciso – Marziale un poco meno allegro – Allegro animato

Liszt was born into the age of social, political and industrial upheaval that Beethoven helped usher in. It was a time of unconstrained expression in which Liszt, an unparalleled piano virtuoso and celebrity, captured the wider imagination.

It was always Liszt’s aim to reimagine the language of music, making it more poetic, spontaneous and Romantic. He retired from performing in 1848 to focus on writing music rather than playing it.

The second of Liszt’s surviving piano concertos straddles that shift by some years. The composer started work on it in 1839, but didn’t finish it for another 22 years. Like its predecessor, the Piano Concerto No. 2 took so long to write because it explored radical techniques.

We hear Liszt’s Concerto performed by Yefim Bronfman, with whom Esa-Pekka Salonen has collaborated on many occasions and to whom he dedicated his own Piano Concerto in 2007.

Liszt had long been fascinated by Franz Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy, a piece that carries a single tune through four contrasting segments of a broad structure. In his concertos, Liszt set out to achieve something similar: to make the chameleonic transformation of a single tune generate the music itself, while approximating the ‘development’ section of a traditional sonata form.

By the time of the Second Concerto, first performed in its almost-finished form on 7 January 1857, that process had become more refined and subtle. It was a process that depended on Liszt’s ability to think up a tune that could be adapted to the point of unrecognisability – and from which multiple distinct characters could be found.

Photograph of Franz Liszt by Herman Biow, 1843 (public domain)

The tune in question is played by the clarinet right at the start of the Concerto. Across six continuous sections, it continues to appear in strikingly different guises – most notably, at the start of the movement that roughly equates to a finale, when it takes the form of a strident march.

We hear Liszt’s Concerto performed by Yefim Bronfman, with whom Esa-Pekka Salonen has collaborated on many occasions and to whom he dedicated his own Piano Concerto in 2007.

Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971): Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920, rev. 1947)

The music of Igor Stravinsky has threaded itself through Esa-Pekka Salonen’s life. The conductor has always had a way of clarifying Stravinsky’s clear-cut structures while giving them meaning and feeling.

The Russian composer’s music has popped-up at landmark events in Salonen’s career: the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003; the completion of his two-decade tenure at the helm of its resident orchestra, the LA Phil; and the landmark Philharmonia festival Stravinsky: Myths and Rituals that ran throughout 2016.

Two of those occasions included performances of Stravinsky’s most famous work, the riotous ballet The Rite of Spring. But having completed that piece in 1913, Stravinsky changed tack.

“... an austere ritual which is unfolded in terms of short litanies between different groups of homogenous instruments...” Stravinsky on his Symphonies of Wind Instruments

In the late 1910s, the Russian composer started to adopt a cooler, more balanced and objective approach to composing, often using smaller ensembles. This aligned Stravinsky with the emerging ‘neo-classical’ movement. In 1919, with one foot still firmly planted in his ‘Russian period’ (though living in Paris), Stravinsky sketched a keyboard work based on four Russian melodies: two folk tunes, a meadow song and a furious dance.

In the following year, Stravinsky was asked to write a piece in commemoration of the composer Claude Debussy. He fashioned a chorale-like processional piece that he then combined with the keyboard music already sketched. The result was Symphonies of Wind Instruments.

Stravinsky Conducting by F. Man, 1929 (public domain)

Stravinsky uses the word ‘symphonies’ in its antiquated form, suggesting wind instruments simply ‘playing together’. He had long believed wind instruments better suited the sort of rigid, clear-cut structures that were increasingly interesting him at the time.

Stravinsky himself described the piece as “an austere ritual which is unfolded in terms of short litanies between different groups of homogenous instruments.” After a less than brilliant premiere in London in June 1921, the composer bluntly stated that the work was not intended “to satisfy emotional cravings.” A revised version followed in 1947, but the intention wasn’t to sweeten the pill.

Accordingly, the tunes are presented with a cool logic, separated by short variations and divided into three speed groups, before the chorale processional ends.

The music of Igor Stravinsky has threaded itself through Esa-Pekka Salonen’s career. The conductor has always had a way of clarifying Stravinsky’s clear-cut structures while giving them meaning and feeling.

Jean Sibelius (1865 – 1957): Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105 (1923 – 1924)

Adagio – Vivacissimo – Allegro moderato – Vivace – Presto – Adagio

As a Finn, Esa-Pekka Salonen is inevitably associated with the composer who managed to unite his country through the assorted conflicts of the early 20th century, Jean Sibelius. Sibelius reimagined the structure of orchestral music by examining the hypnotic, circular repetitions of Finland’s musical storytelling tradition, rune singing.

By the time of his last symphony, Sibelius had apparently concluded that a form of centrifugal energy, gently manipulated by rhythm, could take his music wherever it needed to go. The most radical implication of that idea was that the traditional symphonic circle might not be closed – that a symphony might simply release itself from an argument rather than ‘winning’ it.

As a Finn, Esa-Pekka Salonen is inevitably associated with the composer who managed to unite his country through the assorted conflicts of the early 20th century, Jean Sibelius.

The Symphony No. 7 is Sibelius’s most magnificent realisation of that idea. It was born of abrasion, squalor and addiction (Sibelius drank heavily at the time), yet manages to be profound, majestic and humbling . In its short, single-movement span, the Symphony appears to live a whole life.

Sibelius began work on the piece in earnest in 1923. On 24 March the following year, the Symphony was given its first performance. In common with Sibelius’s best music, the Symphony gives the impression of flowing like a river – the bass notes shaping the riverbed, and therefore the rate of flow.

Photograph of Jean Sibelius by Henry B. Goodwin, 1923 (public domain)

The resulting variegated energies throw up a ‘motto’ trombone melody that occurs at three vital junctures along the way. We hear it first, usually around five minutes in, faintly outlined on hymn-like strings and then traced on a trombone, as if outlining a mountainous horizon.

The motto returns twice. First, after the Symphony’s Scherzo section, when it seems troubled – in a minor key, baited by the rest of the orchestra.

Its final reappearance couldn’t be more different. Now it appears to be in state of transcendence, and cues the Symphony’s strained but climactic bid for release. While the trombone retains its original speed, the music itself is running at a higher velocity. The tune therefore sounds more majestic than ever.

Notes by Andrew Mellor © Philharmonia Orchestra/Andrew Mellor

Esa-Pekka Salonen © Benjamin Ealovega

A Tribute to Esa-Pekka Salonen

By Kira Doherty, 2nd Horn and President of the Philharmonia

Usually when I go and speak to conductors after a Philharmonia concert, we talk about the music, the players and about future plans. They are often chatty and satisfied, and happily beaming after particularly good performances. When I speak to Salonen though, I never know what to expect…

“Good concert tonight, Maestro. Did you enjoy it?”

“Yes. It was a good one tonight. Listen, I’d like to book some karaoke for tomorrow night. Do you think you could help me with that?”

“Um… yes of course. How many people would it be for?”

“A hundred-ish.”

To be fair, this was the last night of a two-week tour of Japan, where the Philharmonia had travelled the length of the country performing Mahler, Beethoven and Strauss. But this sort of spontaneous generosity from Salonen was not out of the ordinary; in fact it was representative of his longstanding relationship with the players, and the close camaraderie that he fostered throughout his tenure.

Esa-Pekka Salonen in Lotte Concert Hall, Seoul, 2018 © Mast Media

“How about a drink somewhere near the hall after the show?” This time we were performing at the Auditorio Nacional de Música in Madrid, where the only bars in the vicinity were decidedly spit-and-sawdust. After the end of the concert, however, Esa-Pekka and a group of us piled in to the best-looking one, and spent an enjoyable evening drinking cheerful, goldfish bowl-sized gin and tonics, and munching on complimentary saucers of peanuts.

For a group of players used to maestros draping cashmere sweaters over their shoulders and keeping well away from the playing troops, Salonen broke the mould, and in so doing accomplished what very few principal conductors manage to do.

You see, principal conductors almost always fall into two categories: those who remain frustratingly elusive and isolated from the players, and those who become overly familiar, often at the risk of breeding what familiarity breeds. Yet Salonen managed to avoid both of these pitfalls during his time as Principal Conductor, becoming a close and beloved member of the Philharmonia family whilst always maintaining the highest levels of respect on the podium from the players.

Relationships like these between conductor and orchestra are rare, and although these final concerts feel as if a chapter is closing, the Philharmonia/Salonen relationship is far from over...

If one wants to understand the source of the success behind this relationship, it is not in small part due to this sense of closeness and rapport coupled with exacting standards and musical integrity. It is a relationship built on trust and mutual respect, which makes us feel able to take risks and push boundaries (or to put it in more colloquial terms, he is always there to save our derrière when things get interesting and, very occasionally, we his).

There are so many conductors who will to seek to control an orchestra, to impose their vision, or to shape the orchestra in their image. But playing for Salonen is different: he enables the orchestra to be its true self, and together we follow where he leads.

Esa-Pekka Salonen © Mika Ranta

Relationships like these between conductor and orchestra are rare, and although these final concerts feel as if a chapter is closing, the Philharmonia/Salonen relationship is far from over, and we will already be looking forward to seeing our old friend back on the podium before too long, and to buying him a large gin and tonic afterwards (with complimentary peanuts, of course).

Feature by Kira Doherty © Philharmonia Orchestra/Kira Doherty

Esa-Pekka Salonen © Mark Allan

Esa-Pekka Salonen

“The Philharmonia under Mr Salonen is a wondrous creature to behold...” The New York Times

Back in 1983, an unknown young Finnish conductor made his Philharmonia debut at the Royal Festival Hall in London, stepping in at a few days’ notice to conduct Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 3.

Esa-Pekka Salonen has been part of the life of the Philharmonia ever since, and this season is the last in his remarkable 13-season term as Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor. Throughout his tenure he has worked relentlessly to redefine what classical music can be in the 21st century.

He has collaborated with the Philharmonia on groundbreaking ways to present orchestral music, including large-scale interactive installations The Virtual Orchestra, Universe of Sound and Re:Rite, an acclaimed iPad app, The Orchestra; and a virtual reality experience featuring the piece that first brought him to us, Mahler’s Symphony No. 3.

He has programmed outstanding, critically acclaimed series examining social and cultural history through the prism of music – among the most memorable are Vienna: City of Dreams, Paris: City of Light, Stravinsky: Myths and Rituals, and Weimar Berlin: Bittersweet Metropolis. And he has led the Philharmonia on tours to Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Russia, the USA, and all over Europe.

Alongside his position with the Philharmonia, Esa-Pekka is also Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, and Conductor Laureate for both the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he was Music Director from 1992 until 2009. He is the Artist in Association at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet. He recently joined the faculty of LA’s Colburn School, where he leads the Negaunee Conducting Program (in partnership with the Philharmonia). He co-founded the annual Baltic Sea Festival, serving as Artistic Director from 2003 to 2018.

He is renowned as a composer as well as a conductor – he spends part of each year composing, deep in the Finnish countryside. His music has been praised for its “tremendous technique, intellect, charm and musicality” (The Times), and his Violin Concerto won a Grawemeyer Award. 

Yefim Bronfman © Frank Stewart

Yefim Bronfman

“His energy emanates from his fingers and swirls out of the piano with such perfection that every note grabs the ear with an expressive, singing quality..." The Washington Post

Internationally recognised as one of today’s most acclaimed and admired pianists, Yefim Bronfman stands among a handful of artists regularly sought by festivals, orchestras, conductors and recital series. His commanding technique, power and exceptional lyrical gifts are consistently acknowledged by the press and audiences alike.

In the wake of world-wide cancellations beginning in spring 2020 his 2020/21 season began in January 2021 with the Concertgebouworkest followed by the Bayerischer Rundfunk Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic and London’s Philharmonia in special programmes recorded for streaming. Concerts in North America have continued with Dallas, Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta, Houston and Pittsburgh orchestras despite restrictions imposed by COVID-19 and summer concerts are now scheduled with him in Vail (Philadelphia Orchestra), Aspen, Tanglewood (Boston Symphony), Grand Tetons and on tour in Europe with the Concertgebouworkest.

Mr Bronfman works regularly with an illustrious group of conductors, including Esa-Pekka Salonen, Daniel Barenboim, Herbert Blomstedt, Semyon Bychkov, Riccardo Chailly, Christoph von Dohnányi, Gustavo Dudamel, Charles Dutoit, Daniele Gatti, Valery Gergiev, Alan Gilbert, Vladimir Jurowski, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Andris Nelsons, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Sir Simon Rattle and David Zinman.

Summer engagements have regularly taken him to the major festivals of Europe and the US. Always keen to explore chamber music repertoire, his partners have included Pinchas Zukerman, Martha Argerich, Magdalena Kožená, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Emmanuel Pahud and many others.

Widely praised for his solo, chamber and orchestral recordings, Mr Bronfman has been nominated for 6 GRAMMY Awards, winning in 1997 with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic for their recording of the three Bartók Piano Concerti.

Born in Tashkent in the Soviet Union, Yefim Bronfman immigrated to Israel with his family in 1973, where he studied with pianist Arie Vardi, head of the Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University. In the United States, he studied at the Juilliard School, Marlboro School of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music, under Rudolf Firkusny, Leon Fleisher and Rudolf Serkin. A recipient of the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize, one of the highest honours given to American instrumentalists, in 2010 he was further honoured as the recipient of the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in piano performance from Northwestern University and in 2015 with an honorary doctorate from the Manhattan School of Music.

The Orchestra

First Violins

  • Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay
  • Rebecca Chan
  • Eugene Lee
  • Eunsley Park – Chair endowed by Saul Nathan
  • Soong Choo
  • Adrián Varela
  • Lulu Fuller – Chair endowed anonymously
  • Victoria Irish
  • Karin Tilch
  • Jeff Moore

Second Violins

  • Annabelle Meare
  • Emily Davis – No. 2 Second Violin Chair is endowed by Nick and Camilla Bishop
  • Fiona Cornall – No. 3 Second Violin Chair is endowed anonymously
  • Paula Clifton-Everest
  • Julian Milone – Chair endowed by Julia Zilberman
  • Gideon Robinson
  • Susan Hedger
  • Sophie Cameron
  • Nuno Carapina – Chair endowed by Michael Stott


  • Yukiko Ogura – The Principal Viola Chair is endowed by The Tertis Foundation
  • William Bender – No. 3 Viola Chair is endowed by Gillian and Lionel Frumkin
  • Sylvain Séailles – No. 4 Viola Chair is endowed by Ruth and Henry Amar
  • Carol Hultmark
  • Stephanie Edmundson
  • Linda Kidwell – Chair endowed by AgCo Tech Pte Ltd
  • Cheremie Hamilton-Miller – The Philharmonia Orchestra Deputy President’s Chair is endowed by The Fernside Trust


  • Timothy Walden – The Principal Cello Chair is endowed in memory of Amaryllis Fleming (1925–1999) by the Amaryllis Fleming Foundation and Fleming Family and Partners Ltd
  • Richard Birchall
  • Anne Baker
  • Deirdre Cooper
  • Alexander Rolton – Chair endowed by Saul Nathan
  • Ella Rundle

Double Basses

  • Tim Gibbs – The Principal Double Bass Chair is endowed by Sir Sydney and Lady Lipworth in memory of Bertrand Lipworth
  • Simon Oliver – Chair endowed by Saul Nathan
  • Michael Fuller – Chair endowed anonymously
  • Owen Nicolaou
  • Samuel Rice


  • Charlotte Ashton (doubling piccolo) – The Principal Flute Chair is endowed by Norbert and Sabine Reis
  • June Scott (doubling piccolo)
  • Daniel Shao (doubling piccolo)


  • Tom Blomfield – The Principal Oboe Chair is endowed by Elizabeth Aitken
  • Alex Hilton


  • Mark van de Wiel
  • Laurent Ben Slimane – The Principal Bass Clarinet Chair is endowed by Philip and Judy Green
  • Jennifer McLaren


  • Emily Hultmark – The Principal Bassoon Chair is endowed by Penny and Nigel Turnbull
  • Dominic Tyler – No. 2 Bassoon Chair is endowed by John Abramson


  • Luke Whitehead (doubling bassoon) – The Principal Contrabassoon Chair is endowed by David and Penny Stern


  • Nigel Black – The Principal Horn Chair is endowed by John and Carol Wates in memory of Dennis Brain
  • Kira Doherty – The President’s Chair is endowed by Esa-Pekka Salonen in honour of Sir Sydney Lipworth QC and Lady Lipworth CBE
  • Diego Incertis
  • Carsten Williams
  • Daniel Curzon


  • Jason Evans – The Principal Trumpet Chair is endowed by Daan and Maggie Knottenbelt
  • Robin Totterdell
  • Matthew Williams


  • Byron Fulcher – The Principal Trombone Chair is endowed by the National Friends Council
  • Philip White

Bass Trombone

  • James Buckle


  • Peter Smith


  • Antoine Siguré

Percussion – The Percussion Section is endowed by Patrick and Sule Dewilde

  • Paul Stoneman