The Finnish conductor and violinist, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, He studied piano and violin at the Lahti Conservatory. His teachers encouraged him to consider conducting when he was as young as 12 years old. He began his musical career as violinist, playing co-principal second violin and later an associate to Leif Segerstam, with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (FRSO). After graduating from the Conservatory in 1978 , he changed his career path and took classes in conducting with the legendary teacher Jorma Panula at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. In the same class were also Esa-Pekka Salonen and Osmo Vänskä. During his conducting studies, he played professionally as a violinist in the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. That orchestra gave him his chance to have a conducting debut on their podium at the age of 23. In 1981, he also won the first prize of the Scandinavian Conducting Competition. The Helsinki Philharmonic invited him to lead several of their concerts on its important North American tour of 1982. He repeated this feat when the orchestra toured China in 1985.
In 1983, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Jukka-Pekka Saraste co-founded the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, which specialises in performances of contemporary music. This gained him considerable international recognition for his informed and exciting choices of new music. In 2000, he also founded the Ekenäs Summer Concerts-Festival (Tammisaari Festival) with the Finnish Chamber Orchestra, and he is currently the Artistic Advisor to both Festival and Orchestra. Saraste has directed the Finnish Chamber Orchestra on several tours, including tours in the USA and China.
His biggest breakout year was 1987. In that year Jukka-Pekka Saraste was appointed Chief Conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (a position he held until 2001), and Principal Conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Edinburgh (a position he held until 1991). With the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra he created an ensemble much admired by audiences and critics throughout the world. He brought the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra to the Edinburgh Festival, and has toured with it to Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Germany, the UK and, several times, to Vienna. His first appearance there with the orchestra, in 1993, has led to several return trips. He now holds the title of Conductor Laureate of this Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. He has twice recorded the complete symphonies of Jean Sibelius with this orchestra. His tenure with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra saw him lead it on important tours throughout the British Isles and North America, including a series of performances at New York's Carnegie Hall.
Jukka-Pekka Saraste became Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1994. This is a major orchestra that has varied in quality over the years and, before Saraste, never had a regular recording contract. Saraste brought it to one of its highest points. He has been credited with bringing a large and diverse audience to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's home of Roy Thompson Hall. He frequently took the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to Carnegie Hall in New York. He also brought it a contract with Finlandia Records. The later years of his tenure were marked by strife over the orchestra's financial difficulties, several musicians' strikes, and his unsuccessful efforts to improve the acoustics at Roy Thomson Hall. During the 1999 labour dispute, Saraste had offered to serve as mediator in the situation. Saraste stepped down from his Toronto post in 2001, and has since returned to Toronto for several guest appearances.
From 2002 to 2005, Jukka-Pekka Saraste served as the Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. In August 2006, he became Music Director of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, with an initial contract of 5 years. In June 2009, his Oslo contract was extended through the 2012-2013 season. In December 2006, the Lahti Symphony Orchestra announced the appointment of Saraste as its Artistic Advisor from 2008 through 2011, and Artistic Director of the Lahti Sibelius Festival in 2008. In November 2008, the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln announced the appointment of Saraste as its next principal conductor, effective with the 2010-2011 season.
Jukka-Pekka Saraste has conducted as a guest many renowned orchestras and ensembles, including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphonieorchester, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra (London), Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala, and Dresden Staatskapelle.
Jukka-Pekka Saraste established himself as a leading conductor of his generation at a remarkably early age, and has gone on to fulfill the promise that was implied by becoming one of the world's leading conductors, demonstrating considerable musical depth and integrity. He is particularly known for his interpretations of Mozart and of 20th-century classics, particularly new Finnish music. Having brought the music of Scandinavian composers such as Kaja Saariaho, Magnus Lindberg and Esa-Pekka Salonen to greater prominence in the active concert repertoire, Saraste also has a strong affinity with the sound and style of late romantic music. Known for most of his career for incisive, energetic performances, Saraste has stated that he is changing his approach as a result of studying the recordings of great conductors of the past such as Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtwängler. He says that in their day, conductors led the broad outlines of the work and left the orchestra's principal players in charge of their respective sections, generating "an exciting kind of friction, combining sizzling energy with the broad outline." He now strives for a broad sound and more rubato.
Most recent engagements have included, the Philharmonia Orchestra (London), Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphonieorchester, Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Symphoniker, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala, Münchner Philharmoniker, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Jukka-Pekka Saraste took part in the first Abu Dhabi Classics season with the Sibelius Academy Orchestra. He just conducted a substantial tour leading to all European Music Capitals with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. During the 2009-2010 season he appeared with the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, Wiener Symphoniker, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and went on tour with the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Lahti Symphony.
Jukka-Pekka Saraste began his connection with Finlandia Records with a complete set of Jean Sibelius Symphonies, recorded by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in St Petersburg, Russia in 1995. Previously, he had made records with the Virgin Classics, BIS, Classic for Pleasure, Conifer, Ondine, Simax, and Decca labels. His exclusive contract with Finlandia began in 1995 and included both the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and brought both to a major international record company, since Finlandia is owned by the giant American media firm Warner Classics. His discography includes also the complete symphonies of Carl Nielsen with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra as well as works by Béla Bartók, Henri Dutilleux, Modest Mussorgsky and Prokofiev with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Their first recording for Finlandia, of orchestral music by Mussorgsky, won a nomination for the Juno Award, Canada's recording academy prize. With the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra Saraste launched in 2008 the orchestra's first DVD recording ever, Sibelius' Symphony No. 5. Another DVD, with Sibelius and Dmitri Shostakovich, will be launched during the 2009-2010 season.
Jukka-Pekka Saraste was awarded the Finnish State Prize for Music in 2000. He has received a Doctor honoris causa from the University of York, and he is a recipient of Finlandís Sibelius Medal. Recent honours also include the Sibelius Prize, awarded in Norway.