Saxophonist and composer Esa Pietilä biography


“The impressive tenor saxophonist Esa Pietilä”! – DownBeat / Josef Woodard

The multifaceted expression of saxophone in various genres

Esa Pietilä (*1964), an internationally acclaimed virtuoso saxophonist and composer who operates with modern musical genres in a creative way, from solo performances up to appearances as a soloist for orchestra. He has performed internationally in USA, Canada, Japan, Italy, Germany, Norway, Sweden, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Iceland, England, Australia, New Zeeland, Brazil and Cuba.

He has appeared as soloist for orchestra with conductor luminaries Esa-Pekka Salonen, Santtu Matias Rouvali & Ville Matvejeff and worked with conductors Tibor Boganyi, Hossein Piskar, Jan Söderblom and Erkki Lasonpalo with orchestras Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, Kuopio Symphony, Pori Sinfonietta, Lappeenranta City Orchestra, St. Michael Strings to name a few. The works performed have been Pietilä’s own pieces and e.g. tenor saxophone concertos by Eero Hämeenniemi and Kalevi Aho – both works written especially for Pietilä. He recorded Kalevi Aho´s concerto for BIS record label in spring 2022.

For his saxophone repertoire with groups on contemporary classical field, Pietilä likes to perform exciting, already existing music for tenor saxophone, e.g. Magnus Lindberg´s Ablauf (saxophone edition by Lindberg) and such. Other co-operational colleaques are e.g. accordeonist and composer Veli Kujala , church organist Pétur Sakari, such contemporary chamber groups as Tampere Raw and KAMUS string quartet to name few. He also composes new material for saxophone & chamber groups.

Pietilä´s solo concerts include free Improv pieces, improvisations on J.S Bach themes, Pietilä´s own compositions for solo saxophone and pieces from e.g. Luciano Berio. The solo concerts started in 2007 and will continue annually in Finland & abroad as they have been numbered over 100 already. Pietilä has released two solo albums,  Karhea (2009) and Times & Spaces (2017)

Pietilä´s jazz oriented groups and projects include eg. award winning Liberty Ship quartet and Sonic Decode to name a few.

As composer

As a composer, Esa Pietilä has broadened the image of contemporary music with jazz. He has been commissioned to write works for Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, Zagros Ensemble, Tampere Raw, St. Michael Strings, KAMUS string quartetOsuma ensemble, UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra and others.

Pietilä’s compositions include often a mixed combination of instruments and styles. These are e.g. Graffiti Play for chamber orchestra and contemporary jazz trio, (premiered by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Avanti! and Esa Pietilä Trio), Pulses, Waves & Dialoques for tenor saxophone and string orchestra, the newly born double concerto Kairos Ludus for violin, tenor saxophone and chamber orchestra (TBA in 2022) with violinist Pekka Kuusisto, Pietilä & Jyväskylä Symphony and conductor Elena Schwartz, Hunt! for saxophone and percussion quintet with Osuma Ensemble , Blazing Flames for tenor saxophone & KAMUS string quartet , Uirapuru for ten. sax & choir Akademiska Sångföreningen. Combining improvisation and composed music has also always been an interest for Pietilä.

Publisher Fennica Gehrman

Publisher Fennica Gehrman presents Pietilä´s works including aforementioned concertos, plus Asterion for 8 players (2014), commissioned by the Zagros Ensemble), Hyperhelium, for chamber sextet and tenor saxophone (2016, commissioned by the Tampere Raw), Brisk, for cello & marimba (2017) commissioned by cellist Eeva Rysä & percussionist Kazutata Morita), Uirapuru (2017) for male choir and tenor saxophone (2017, commissioned by the Akademiska Sångföreningen).

Among the recent works are Blue, Black & Sun (string quartet No. 2), The Wind Wants for woodwind quintet, Blazing Flames for tenor saxophone and Kamus String Quartet, Glow for accordion, percussion and live-electronics, Fire! for solo saxophone, Fata Morgana for harpsichord solo premiered by Assi Karttunen, Three Strides of Light for piano solo, premiered by Risto-Matti Marin,  Zephyros, Sonata for flute & piano premiered (TBA) by Sami Junnonen (fl) and Tuomas Turriago (pno), Seven in Amazonas for recorder quartet and SaturnFantasy for tenor saxophone & church organ, premiered with organ artist Pétur Sakari & Pietilä.

See complete list of works

Small groups on the compound field of contemporary & improv music.

Liberty Ship quartet with Norwegians Håvard Wiik (piano), Ole-Morten Vågan (bass) and drummer Olavi Louhivuori from Finland combines sounds of contemporary classical music with freejazz in constant pursuit of creative self-expression. Their music is adventurous, mysterious, creative and unpredictable.

Newly (2020) born Sonic Decode with guitar wizard Raoul Björkenheim and drummer & percussionist Janne Tuomi creates composed, both structurally and non-structurally improvised music echoes of Zappa combined with the sound worlds of Oliver Méssiaen and the atmospheres of György Ligeti

The duo Pietilä & church organist Pétur Sakari presents composed music from Pietilä, J.S. Bach & Astor Piazzolla plus improvised genre-defying journeys without any musical borders. The duo Kujala-Pietilä Treatment with accordionist Veli Kujala in which they both include live-electronics in their improvised & composed duo context. Another duo Unprecedented with kantele artist Eija Kankaanranta and newly born duo w/ Estonian quitarist Mart Soo are also a set-ups for contemporary music & improvisation.


Pietilä gives masterclasses on improvisation and saxophone which has appeared in Boston, Berklee Music school of Music, Louisville, Kentucky “Jamey Aebersold Jazz Program Studies”, Laval University in Montreal, Privatiuniversitet Wien, Graz University Jazz Department, Luzern Musichochschule in Switzerland, Malmö Royal Academy of music (Sweden), Reykjavik FUI Music School, Conservatory Giuseppi Tartini in Trieste, Italy, Conservatory Antonio Scrontino in Trapani, Sicily etc.

Pietilä was the artistic director of 2014 born Helsinki Free Fall festival that presents many kinds of new music on the fields of contemporary music, contemporary jazz, new music & improvisation.


Pietilä´s playing and recordings has been thanked by such internationally well-known critics, reviewers and editors like Stuart Nicholson (UK), Laurence Donohue-Greene (AllAboutJazz-New York), Henning Bolte (The Netherlands), Don Williamson (, Robert Spencer (Cadence USA), Matthew Wuethrich (ALL ABOUT JAZZ) etc. His Liberty Ship Quartet´s album “Approaching” was nominated as an ” ALBUM OF THE YEAR – Best new releases 2013″ by The New York City Jazz Record magazine.

reviews can be found here