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Tarmo Peltokoski, 24, Appointed Hong Kong Philharmonic Music Director

Tarmo Peltokoski
This image released by the Hong Kong Philharmonic shows Tarmo Peltokoski, who was hired Thursday to succeed Jaap van Zweden as music director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic. (Keith Hiro/Hong Kong Philharmonic via AP)

Tarmo Peltokoski was hired to succeed Jaap van Zweden as music director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, starting a new chapter for the orchestra. At just 24 years old, Peltokoski will embark on a five-year term beginning in the 2026-27 season, following a year as music director designate in 2025-26.

“I was just extremely impressed by the orchestra right away,” Peltokoski expressed. “Absolutely one of the best orchestras in Asia, for sure. So when the offer came, it was an easy yes for me.”

Peltokoski hails from Finland and honed his craft at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki under the mentorship of Jorma Panula. Panula, a legendary 93-year-old conductor, composer, and teacher, has a prestigious roster of students including Esa-Pekka Salonen, Susanna Mälkki, Osmo Vänskä, and Klaus Mäkelä.

“He wants to give young people, already established instrumentalists, the chance to conduct, which doesn’t really happen in other countries,” Peltokoski noted. “I’m extremely thankful for that. He sees potential and nurtures it, allowing each student to maintain and even strengthen their individuality.”

At 28, Mäkelä was recently hired to succeed Riccardo Muti as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, showcasing a trend of young talent stepping into significant roles globally.

Peltokoski’s appointment signifies a generational shift in Hong Kong’s musical landscape. Van Zweden, who has led the orchestra since the 2012-13 season, conducted his farewell concert on June 26 at the age of 63.

Peltokoski debuted with the Hong Kong orchestra in June 2023, conducting Sibelius’ “Finlandia,” Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony.

“It was not like a conductor/orchestra relationship. It was: We do music together,” remarked chief executive Benedikt Fohr. “He’s young but already has this intense experience working on repertoire and a clear vision for the future.”

Peltokoski began his piano studies at the age of 8. His ambition to conduct was sparked by watching clips of Daniel Barenboim conducting Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” at the 1988 Bayreuth Festival on YouTube. He was so inspired that he asked his parents to buy him the DVD.

Currently based in Helsinki, Peltokoski has served as the music director of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra since the 2022-23 season, with his tenure running through the 2024-25 season. He is set to become the music director of France’s Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse in 2025-26.

Deutsche Grammophon signed him to an exclusive recording contract in October. Remarkably, Peltokoski conducted Wagner’s Ring for the first time at age 22 at the Eurajoki Bel Canto Festival in Finland in August 2022.

“My career starts in a very symphonic manner but long-term my plan is to move more in the opera direction,” he revealed.

Founded in 1947 as the Sino-British Orchestra, the ensemble adopted the name Hong Kong Philharmonic in 1957 and went fully professional in 1974. The orchestra presents about 150 concerts over a 44-week season.

Peltokoski is scheduled to guest conduct the orchestra this Friday and Saturday, leading performances of Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. He will also open the 2024-25 season on September 5 at the 1,971-seat Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall.

Fohr described Peltokoski as insistent yet different in his approach compared to van Zweden. “The musicians feel he gives them a lot more freedom to achieve the common goal,” Fohr said, “where Jaap expects from everybody to be 100% following his speed and his instructions.”

Source: AP News