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San Francisco Symphony music director to leave, citing issues with board

A conductor leads an orchestra of masked violinists, evoking a performance in a pandemic era.
Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Salonen announced Thursday that he is leaving the San Francisco Symphony after five seasons. | Source: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

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, spokesperson 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 spokesperson 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.

A man with grey hair and a black outfit in front of a blurred Rolex logo.
Esa-Pekka Salonen praised the orchestra in his announcement Thursday, saying he was proud to work with the "world-class musicians." | Source: Chris Pizzello/AP Photo

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 2008-2021.