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Esa-Pekka Salonen to leave San Francisco Symphony, citing dispute with orchestra's board

FILE - Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen arrives at the premiere of "The Soloist" in Los Angeles, on April 20, 2009. Salonen will leave the San Francisco Symphony following the 2024-25 season, just his fifth as music director, announcing his departure with a statement critical of the orchestra’s leadership. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — 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, spokeswoman Amanda Ameer said.

“There are significant financial pressures on the organization that have just become impossible to ignore,” Symphony CEO Matthew Spivey said later Thursday. “It’s clear that the organization will have to evolve in various ways to respond to those pressures. The organization already has begin to make some of those difficult decisions.”

Spivey cited the cancellation of some events at SoundBox, an alternate venue that was the site of late-night concerts.

“Further changes are probably necessary and some of them are even yet to be determined, but clearly these decisions are steering the organization in a different direction than what we could have anticipated in 2018 when Esa-Pekka was appointed,” Spivey said. “So given this, it’s understandable that Esa-Pekka would conclude his tenure as music director when his contract ends in June 2025.”

The symphony board is chaired by Priscilla B. Geeslin, whose husband, Keith Geeslin, is president of San Francisco Opera.

Orchestra spokeswoman Taryn Lott said Priscilla B. Geeslin was 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.”

Spivey said the orchestra hopes to work with Salonen after his tenure ends.

His departure creates yet another vacancy on a major U.S. podium.

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--21.