Salonen currently serves as the Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony in addition to the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of London's Philharmonia Orchestra. He is in his final season with the latter, and will continue as the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Conductor Emeritus at the end of his tenure in June 2021. He has served in the role since 2008.
Other people from Finland to receive the honor include Presidents Martti Ahtisaari and Urho Kekkonen, Prime Minister of Finland Harri Holkeri, former President and Marshal of Finland C. G. E. Mannerheim and former Prime Minister, President, and the Governor of the Bank of Finland Risto Ryti.
“This is a true personal honor, but more than that, it is meaningful to have artists honored at a national and historic level," Salonen said. "It shows an appreciation of art-making as a necessary part of society. A recognition that culture is who we are, not just what we do. I am grateful for my time in London and throughout the UK with the Philharmonia Orchestra. I share this with them."
Reflecting on his time with the Philharmonia, Salonen added, "In 1983, I took over a programme from Michael Tilson Thomas on short notice. I flew to London from Helsinki, stepped onto the podium in front of the Philharmonia, and was astonished by the warmth and flexibility I received from the players; I’ll never forget that. It’s fun to look back, but better to look forward: this is a remarkable orchestra, and I’m honored and excited to be part of it as we push into the 21st century together.”