Tarmo Peltokoski, 24-year-old Finnish conductor, to become Hong Kong Philharmonic music director

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 Thursday to succeed Jaap van Zweden as music director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

Peltokoski, at 24 far younger than most music directors, will start a four-year term in the 2026-27 season after serving as music director designate in 2025-26, the philharmonic said.

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

Peltokoski grew up in Finland and studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki with Jorma Panula, a famed 93-year-old conductor, composer and teacher whose students have included Esa-Pekka Salonen, Susanna Mälkki, Osmo Vänskä and Klaus Mäkelä.

“He wants to give the chance to young people, already established instrumentalists, to have the chance to conduct, which doesn’t really happen in other countries,” Peltokoski said. “So I’m extremely thankful for that. And secondly, he sees the potential and really nourishes those talents that he thinks are worth his time. And then thirdly, he wants people to be individuals and doesn’t force anything on anyone, so he really wants to keep every student’s strong personality there and make them even stronger.”

Just 28, Mäkelä was hired in April to succeed Riccardo Muti as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra starting in 2027-28.

Peltokoski's hiring marks a generational change in Hong Kong. Van Zweden became music director in the 2012-13 season and the 63-year-old conducted his farewell concert on June 26.

Peltokoski made his debut with the Hong Kong orchestra in June 2023 leading 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,” chief executive Benedikt Fohr said. “He’s young but already has this intense experience on working on repertoire and a clear focus where he wanted to go in that week but also when you talk to him, where he wants to be in 10 years.”

Peltokoski started piano studies at 8 and decided he wanted to become a conductor after seeing clips of the Daniel Barenboim conducting the Wagner's “Der Ring des Nibelungen” at the 1988 Bayreuth Festival on YouTube. He asked his parents to buy him the DVD.

Peltokoski, who lives in Helsinki, has been music director of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra since 2022-23, an appointment that runs through the 2024-25 season. He becomes 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. He conducted Wagner’s Ring for the first time at age 22 at the Finland’s Eurajoki Bel Canto Festival 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 said.

Founded in 1947 as the Sino-British Orchestra, the ensemble was renamed the Hong Kong Philharmonic in 1957 and became fully professional in 1974. It presents about 150 concerts over a 44-week season.

Peltokoski is to guest conduct the orchestra on Friday and Saturday in Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and then open the 2024-25 season on Sept. 5 at the 1,971-seat Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall.

Fohr described Peltokoski as insistent as van Zweden but with a different method.

“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.”