Salonen, born in Helsinki, Finland, studied horn and composition at the Sibelius Academy, as well as conducting with Jorma Panula. Another classmate on the composition side was the composer Magnus Lindberg and together they formed the new-music appreciation group Korvat auki ("Ears open" in Finnish) and the experimental ensemble Toimii.
Salonen has said that the primary reason he took up conducting was to ensure that someone would conduct his own compositions. In 1983, however, he replaced an indisposed Michael Tilson Thomas to conduct a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 3 with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London at very short notice launching his career as a conductor. He was subsequently principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia from 1985 to 1994.
Salonen was principal conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1984 to 1995. He co-founded the Baltic Sea Festival in 2003 with Michael Tydén and Valery Gergiev.
In 1989, he was offered the title of Principal Guest Conductor with the Los Angeles Philharmonic by Ernest Fleischmann; however, controversy ensued when André Previn, the orchestra's Music Director at the time, was not consulted on the Principal Guest appointment. Four months later, Salonen was named the orchestra's tenth Music Director and holding the position until 2009. Under Salonen's leadership, the Philharmonic became an extremely progressive and well-regarded orchestra. The LA Philharmonic created the Esa-Pekka Salonen Commissions Fund as a way to honor his support of contemporary classical music during his tenure as Music Director.
In November 2006, the Philharmonia Orchestra announced the appointment of Salonen as Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor at the beginning of the 2008/09 season. Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra have worked on multi-disciplinary festivals together, including Woven Words: Music begins where words end to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Witold Lutosławski, Salonen's mentor.
In 2014 Esa-Pekka Salonen was part of an international television and web campaign for Apple, promoting iPad Air. The campaign included not only the ad itself, but also discussions with Salonen on classical music, inspiration, and composing.
Salonen and his wife, Jane Price (a former musician with the Philharmonic Orchestra), have three children: daughters Ella Aneira and Anja Sofia, and son Oliver.
In April 2010, Salonen was elected a Foreign Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Salonen carried the Olympic Flame on July 26, 2012, as part of the 2012 Summer Olympics torch relay. Source: Wikipedia