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Protests at San Francisco Symphony Following Music Director’s Departure

Continued protests at performances are calling for the renewal of conductor Esa Pekka Salonen’s contract after 2025

 

In March 2024, musicians of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) appealed to the Board to keep Esa-Pekka Salonen on as music director. This followed an announcement that Salonen was departing from the role after his five-year contract ends in June 2025. 

Salonen joined SFS in 2018 as its 12th Music Director and began his tenure in the fall of 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“I have decided not to continue as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, because I do not share the same goals for the future of the institution as the Board of Governors does,” Salonen said at the time, according to The New York Times. “I am sincerely looking forward to the many exciting programs we have planned for my final season as music director, and am proud to continue working with the world-class musicians of the San Francisco Symphony.”

The orchestra’s musicians soon issued a statement urging their management to retain Salonen in the role, and held their Board of Governors responsible for his decision to not renew his contract, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

Prior to their June 13 concert, SFS musicians stationed themselves outside Davies Symphony Hall (as they had the previous week) handing out leaflets expressing their disappointment. 

Additionally, a petition launched in March to extend Salonen’s tenure has since garnered over 8000 signatures.

Most recently, an audience member displayed a protest sign during a June 21 performance, the SF Chronicle wrote in a new report.

An image of the patron with the sign went viral on social media and translated from Finnish, the sign reads "F*** the Board."

The patron, Laura Leibowitz, received a letter from the San Francisco Symphony and shared it with SF Chronicle. The Symphony's senior director of operations Andrew Dubowski expressed that if it were to happen again, Leibowitz "will be subject to further disciplinary action, up to and including removal from Davies Symphony Hall and/or suspension of privileges to enter and attend activities of the San Francisco Symphony.”

A regular SFS attendee since 1991, Oakland resident Leibowitz told the SF Chronicle that audience members have been bringing signs into the concert hall for years to convey messages, including one saying “Stay” to ask Salonen to reconsider his departure. 

“The problem with ‘Stay’ is that’s not really an option for Esa-Pekka,” Leibowitz said. “The board is preventing him from realizing his artistic vision, so he is moving on. I wanted to put the blame where it properly lies, with a spin of cleverness. I wanted to make sure it was clear.”

“Do I advocate being disruptive? No, I don’t,” she added. “I was trying to convey a brief and supportive message to Esa-Pekka … How do you get to people who are so rich that they don’t give a damn about other people? How do you get their attention? I don’t know, but I’ll come up with something.”

A representative of the San Francisco Symphony told The Violin Channel that they "appreciate the expressions of support the Orchestra has seen from our community.

"We're also mindful that this is a family-friendly, safe space, and we want to provide an enjoyable concert experience for everyone," the continued. "Signs inside the concert hall, including those with profanity, are against our code of conduct and oversized object policy."

 

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