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London Philharmonia picks Santtu-Matias Rouvali as new conductor

The 33-year-old follows in the footsteps of Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen in the prestigious London-based post.

Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Santtu-Matias Rouvali starts as the new principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London in 2021. Image: Marja Väänänen / Yle

Santtu-Matias Rouvali, 33, was named the new principal conductor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra on Wednesday. He will take up the principal conductorship in 2021 on the heels of fellow Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, who has conducted top orchestras around the world.

Rouvali, one of the youngest-ever artists to be appointed principal conductor of a London orchestra, has been called ”the hottest conductor in Finland” by The Times of London. He has been a principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia since 2017 and will take up the principal conductorship with a five-year contract that entails ten weeks work a year with the Philharmonia.

"Start of a great adventure"

“I am honoured to be the new principal conductor of the Philharmonia," said Rouvali in press release issued by the orchestra. "This is the start of a great adventure: London is such an exciting place for orchestras, and the Philharmonia is at the heart of classical music life in this city," he went on to say.

The Philharmonia's managing director, Helen Sprott, said that Rouvali "represents the future."

"He’s young, dynamic, a natural musician and a conducting wizard. He has a proven record of building audiences for orchestras and for thinking creatively about the role a symphony orchestra can play in 21st century society.”

Salonen will hand over the baton to Rouvali after 13 years at the helm of the Philharmonia Orchestra and take up the title of conductor emeritus from 2021, when Rouvali’s appointment starts.

The Santtu effect

Rouvali was born in Lahti, Finland, where his parents were both professional musicians. He trained as a percussionist and studied at Helsinki's Sibelius Academy.

His first principal conductorship, which he still holds, is in Tampere, where the orchestra often had to repeat classical music concerts because of the so-called “Santtu Effect,” or his popularity.

Rouvali is also chief conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and will continue in that post alongside his new job in London.

Tampere-based daily Aamulehti first reported the story.

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