Conductor • Violin
• Born 1956
Often appears with
Coming on the scene in the 1980s, Jukka-Pekka Saraste was at the forefront of the wave of Scandinavian conductors that has washed across the entire classical music world. He has a broad repertory and range of interests that extend from Mozart to contemporary music of his native Finland.
Saraste was born on April 22, 1956, in Heinola, an industrial town in southern Finland. He took classes in piano and violin at the nearby Lahti Conservatory, and even when he was a preteen, his teachers urged him to consider taking up conducting. He landed a job as a violinist in the Helsinki Philharmonic but took their advice, pursuing conducting studies on the side. When he was 23, the Philharmonic invited him to mount the podium as conductor, and the orchestra's tours of the U.S. in 1982 and China in 1985 brought him new opportunities to conduct. In 1987, Saraste was named the principal conductor of both the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He conducted the former on a U.S. tour that included performances at Carnegie Hall; with the Finnish Radio Symphony, he also broadened his international reputation with tours of Britain, continental Europe, and East Asia. Saraste was named the music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1994 and was credited both with raising the group's international reputation and bringing new audiences to Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall. Saraste left both the Toronto Symphony and Finnish Radio Symphony positions in 2001 and served for several years as a guest conductor of the BBC Symphony. In 2006, he became the music director of the Oslo Philharmonic, remaining there until 2013, and he was named the music director of the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln in Germany in 2010. He stepped down from that post in 2019, and the 2019-2020 season saw him make a foray into opera, conducting Korngold's Die tote Stadt at the Finnish National Opera. Saraste is also the founder of the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, which specializes in contemporary music.
Saraste has a large catalog of recordings consisting of nearly 100 items as of 2020. They date back to recordings of 18th century concertos he made with the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra for the BIS label in the mid-1980s. He is especially noted for his recordings of Sibelius with the Toronto Symphony on the Finlandia label; the orchestra had been without a recording contract when he arrived. Saraste has made recordings with all of the orchestras he has headed, appearing on the Simax, Virgin, and Profil labels, among others; for Profil, he recorded a complete cycle of Beethoven's symphonies with the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln. In 2020, he backed Alban Gerhardt with the same ensemble in a new recording of the Shostakovich cello concertos on Hyperion.