Skip to main content

Esa-Pekka Salonen Wins $100,000 Nemmers Composition Prize

Finnish composer/conductor’s honor includes Bienen School residency and public recital

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University announced today (March 10) that Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen will receive the $100,000 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition. The biennial award honors contemporary composers of outstanding achievement who have significantly influenced the field of composition.

Salonen -- who is also a world-renowned conductor -- joins an illustrious list of previous winners of the Nemmers Prize, including Aaron Jay Kernis (2012), John Luther Adams (2010), Kaija Saariaho (2008), Oliver Knussen (2006) and John Adams (2004).

"It is with great pride and appreciation that I accept the Nemmers Prize this year,” Salonen said. “The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has long been a musical home away from home for me, and I look forward to developing a relationship with the Northwestern students and faculty. The possibilities at educational institutions are always intriguing, but the Bienen School's special amalgam of creativity and merit makes this opportunity even more exciting."

Salonen has received numerous honors, including the Pro Finlandia Medal of the Order of the Lion of Finland and the Litteris et Artibus Medal, one of Sweden’s highest honors. In 1998, the French government awarded him the rank of Officier de l’orde des Arts et des Lettres. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences elected him an honorary member in 2010. Salonen was awarded the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition in 2012 for his Violin Concerto. Three major retrospectives of his compositions have been mounted to critical acclaim at Festival Presences in Paris (2011), the Stockholm International Composer Festival (2004) and Musica Nova in Helsinki (2003).

As the 2014 Nemmers Prize winner, Salonen, in addition to receiving a $100,000 cash award, will have one of his works performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the 2015-16 season. He also will interact with Bienen School students and faculty during four residencies on the Northwestern campus over the next two academic years.

“Esa-Pekka Salonen is not only one of today’s leading composers but one whose stylistic evolution sheds a unique light on music’s future,” Bienen School of Music Dean Toni-Marie Montgomery said. “The students of the Bienen School will benefit greatly from his musicianship and insight, both as a composer and conductor. We look forward to his visits to the Northwestern campus over the next two years.”

Trained as a European modernist, Salonen composes works that move freely between contemporary idioms, combining intricacy and technical virtuosity with playful rhythmic and melodic innovations. His catalog includes several works for symphony orchestra, including “Foreign Bodies” (2001), commissioned by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; “Insomnia” (2002), co-commissioned by Suntory Hall, Tokyo; and “Norddeutscher Rundfunk,” Hamburg; and “Wing on Wing” (2004). The latter, which had its world premiere at Walt Disney Concert Hall, was a gift from the composer to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

In 2007, Salonen conducted the New York Philharmonic in the first performance of his Piano Concerto, dedicated to and premiered by Yefim Bronfman. Salonen’s Grawemeyer-winning Violin Concerto was premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Leila Josefowicz in 2009. His compositions “Floof,” “LA Variations” and “Nyx” have become modern classics.

Salonen is currently the principal conductor and artistic adviser of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra and the conductor laureate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Next season he will lead the Orchestre de Paris, the Vienna and New York philharmonics, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

“I am thrilled at the news that Esa-Pekka Salonen is the recipient of Northwestern’s Nemmers Prize,” said Martha Gilmer, vice president for artistic planning and audience development for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “This prize builds on his already strong relationship with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chicago audiences. Bringing to Northwestern his vital and trail-blazing talents as a composer as well as a conductor and advocate for music of the past and present adds an inspiring component to his already rich contributions to the Chicagoland community.”

Salonen’s extensive recording career includes two 2013 releases: a recording of one of composer Henri Dutilleux’s most important works, released on Deutsche Grammophon with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and a two-disc set of the orchestral works of Witold Lutosławski, performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and released on Sony.

Salonen’s Violin Concerto and his orchestral work “Nyx” were released on Deutsche Grammophon with Leila Josefowicz and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in 2012. That same year, he recorded a disc of 2008 Nemmers Prize-winner Kaija Saariaho’s “Passion de Simone” with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Dawn Upshaw. Deutsche Grammophon also has released a portrait CD of Salonen’s orchestral works performed by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer.

A CD of his work “Dichotomie“ (with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Yefim Bronfman) was nominated for a Grammy in 2009. Salonen’s first recording with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon (Stravinsky's “The Rite of Spring” -- the first CD recording at Walt Disney Concert Hall) was nominated for a Grammy in 2007.

Salonen studied horn and composition at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. He later studied composition with Franco Donatoni, Niccolo Castiglioni and Einojuhani Rautavaara. In 2010, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Southern California, where he was recognized as a “preeminent composer, conductor and advocate of contemporary music.” For more on Salonen, visit and


The Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition is made possible through bequests from the late Erwin Esser Nemmers, a former member of the Northwestern University faculty, and his brother, the late Frederic E. Nemmers, who also enabled the creation of the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics and the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics.

On Feb. 27, Northwestern University announced that Jean Tirole is the recipient of the 2014 Nemmers Prize in Economics. The 2014 Nemmers Prize in Mathematics will be announced later this spring.

Visit the Bienen School of Music for more on the Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.