Kent Nagano

Last updated
Kent George Nagano, GOQ, MSM
Kent Nagano.jpg
Nagano photographed by Rory Carnegie
Born (1951-11-22) November 22, 1951 (age 69)
Known forPioneer of historically informed performance

Kent George Nagano, GOQ, MSM (born November 22, 1951) is an American conductor and opera administrator. He is currently Music Director of the Hamburg State Opera since 2015 and was Music Director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra from 2006 to 2020.


Early life and education

Nagano was born in Berkeley, California, while his parents were in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a sansei (third-generation) Japanese-American. [1]

He grew up in Morro Bay, a city located on the Central Coast of California in San Luis Obispo County. He studied sociology and music at the University of California, Santa Cruz. [2] After graduation, he moved to San Francisco State University to study music. While there, he took composition courses from Grosvenor Cooper and Roger Nixon. He also studied at the École Normale de Musique de Paris.


Nagano's first conducting job was with the Opera Company of Boston, where he was assistant conductor to Sarah Caldwell. In 1978, he became the conductor of the Berkeley Symphony, his first music directorship. He stepped down from this position in 2009. [3] [4] During his tenure in Berkeley, Nagano became a champion of the music of Olivier Messiaen and initiated a correspondence with him. [5] He was later invited to work with Messiaen on the final stages of his opera Saint François d'Assise in Paris, where he lived with Messiaen and his wife Yvonne Loriod, whom he came to regard as his "European parents". [6]

In 1982, Nagano conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in several of Frank Zappa's completely orchestral compositions for the first time. Nagano recorded several of Zappa's pieces on the issue London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. 1, where Zappa had personally chosen Nagano to conduct the orchestra. Nagano described this as "my first chance, my first real break". [7] In 1984, while assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he stepped in for Seiji Ozawa on short notice and without rehearsal, [8] receiving acclaim from the audience, orchestra, and Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer for a "noble performance" [9] of Mahler's Ninth Symphony.

Beginning in 1985, Nagano was the Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival four separate times, the last in 2004, and once alongside Stephen Mosko in 1986.

Kent Nagano has a long history of inventive programming, particularly in the chamber music repertoire. It is impossible not to mention his legendary collaboration with Icelandic artist Björk at the 1996 Verbier Festival performing Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire.

In October 2020, Kent Nagano was elected as a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in consideration of "his eminent merits in the musical art”.

Lyon and Manchester

Nagano was music director of the Opéra National de Lyon from 1988–1998, where he recorded, with the Lyon National Opera Orchestra and chorus, numerous works including Busoni's Doktor Faust , Arlecchino and Turandot , Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress , Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann , the premiere of Debussy's Rodrigue et Chimène , Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne , Berlioz' La Damnation de Faust , Carlisle Floyd's Susannah , operas by Richard Strauss, the French version of Salomé and the original version of Ariadne auf Naxos , Peter Eötvös' Tri sestry , Massenet's Werther , Delibes' Coppélia , Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites , orchestral works by Maurice Ravel, and Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins .

Nagano served as principal conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester from 1992 to 1999. During his tenure, Nagano received criticism for his expensive and ambitious programming, as well as his conducting fees. [10] However, poor financial management at the orchestra separately contributed to the fiscal troubles of the orchestra. [11] His contract was not renewed after 1999.

Berlin and Los Angeles

Nagano became principal conductor and artistic director of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in 2000, and served in this position until 2006. He made a number of recordings with the orchestra, including music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Bruckner, Alexander von Zemlinsky, and Gustav Mahler.

Nagano became principal conductor of the Los Angeles Opera (LA Opera) with the 2001–2002 season. In May 2003, Nagano was named the LA Opera's first music director, and he retained this position through 2006.

Recent work

He has been a regular guest at the Salzburg Festival, where he premiered Kaija Saariaho's L'amour de loin in 2000. He also conducted the world premiere of John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer at la Monnaie in Brussels.

In Oper fur Alle, Munich, 2010 Oper fur Alle.jpg
In Oper für Alle, Munich, 2010

In 2006, Nagano became the music director of both the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) and the Bavarian State Opera. His contract with the Bavarian State Opera did not allow him to be the music director of another opera company. [12] He concluded his Bavarian State Opera tenure in 2013. [13] With the OSM, he has conducted commercial recordings for such labels as ECM New Series and Analekta. His current contract with the OSM is through 2020. [14] In June 2017, the OSM announced that Nagano is to stand down from as its music director at the close of his current contract, at the end of the 2019–2020 season. [15]

Nagano is also one of the Russian National Orchestra's Conductor Collegium. [16] In August 2012, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra announced the appointment of Nagano as its principal guest conductor and artistic advisor, as of the 2013–2014 season, with an initial contract of 3 years. [17] In September 2012, the Hamburg State Opera announced the appointment of Nagano as its next Generalmusikdirektor (General Music Director) and Chefdirigent (chief conductor), effective with the 2015–2016 season, [18] with an initial contract through the 2019–2020 season. [19] In October 2017, the company announced the extension of Nagano's Hamburg contract through 2025. [20]

Personal life

Nagano is married to pianist Mari Kodama. [21] The couple has one daughter, Karin Kei Nagano. [22]


Selected discography

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  1. Asakawa, Gil. (2012). Being Japanese American, p. 79.
  2. Nagano, Kent. "University & Career in Music". Kent Nagano. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  3. Bullock, Ken (23 January 2007). "Kent Nagano to Step Down as Berkeley Symphony Music Director". Berkeley Daily Planet . Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  4. "Joana Carneiro named Berkeley Symphony music director" (PDF). Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. 15 January 2009. Retrieved 2010-06-11.[ permanent dead link ]
  5. Allan Kozinn (1 November 1987). "Nagano With a Little Bit of Luck, a Conducting Career Flourishes". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-30.
  6. Shirley Apthorp, "The quiet achiever", AB Radio 24 Hours , October 1995, p. 26
  7. Burnett, Richard (2008-09-04). "Nagano grooves". Hour. Archived from the original on 2008-09-22. Retrieved 2008-09-04.
  8. Miller, Margo (December 9, 1984). "A Busy Young Maestro Gets To Sub For His Idol". Boston Globe. Retrieved March 15, 2016.[ permanent dead link ]
  9. Dyer, Richard (December 1, 1984). "BSO Hails Nagano After Triumph". Boston Globe. Retrieved March 15, 2016.[ permanent dead link ]
  10. John Ezard (25 May 1999). "Nagano passes on Halle baton". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-06-16.
  11. Stephen Moss (28 May 1999). "Say Hallé, wave goodbye". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-06-16.
  12. Daniel J. Wakin (17 September 2004). "National Briefing, West: California: Short Stay For A Music Director". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-06-16.
  13. "Star Munich opera director Nagano resigns amid controversy". The Local. 2010-07-06. Retrieved 2012-08-08.
  14. Isabelle Brien (2013-11-13). "The OSM renews Kent Nagano's contract until 2020" (PDF). Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal. Retrieved 2017-01-17.
  15. Arthur Kaptainis (2017-06-29). "Kent Nagano has timed his departure from the OSM just right". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved 2017-07-01.
  16. Vadim Prokhorov (18 March 2004). "Batons at dawn". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-06-16.
  17. Malin Clausson (2012-08-30). "Nagano tar över efter Dudamel". Göteborgs-Posten. Archived from the original on 2012-09-02. Retrieved 2012-09-03.
  18. Arthur Kaptainis (2012-08-03). "OSM's Nagano to Hamburg Opera in 2015". Montreal Gazette. Archived from the original on 2012-10-11. Retrieved 2012-10-31.
  19. Charlotte Smith (2012-09-26). "Kent Nagano appointed music director of Hamburg State Opera from 2015". Gramophone. Retrieved 2014-06-09.
  20. "Kent Nagano verlängert – und Kühne gibt Millionen". Hamburger Abendblatt. 2017-10-04. Retrieved 2017-12-31.
  21. Bill Brownstein (2015-05-22). "The maestro revealed: Kent Nagano marches to his own beat". Montreal Gzzette. Retrieved 2017-06-28.
  22. Bill Brownstein (2017-04-01). "From musical star to medical student: Karin Kei Nagano takes her cue from her parents". Montreal Gzzette. Retrieved 2017-06-28.
  23. Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), "2008 Autumn Conferment of Decorations on Foreign Nationals," p. 6; retrieved 2012-12-4.
  24. General, Office of the Secretary to the Governor. "Mr. Kent Nagano". The Governor General of Canada.
  25. Government of Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada (January 2, 2016). "Canada Gazette – GOVERNMENT HOUSE".
  27. Jeal, Erica (2016-03-17). "Honegger/Ibert: L'Aiglon CD review – convincing version of a stirring opera". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-07-01.
Cultural offices
Preceded by
John Eliot Gardiner
Music Director, Opéra National de Lyon
Succeeded by
Louis Langrée
Preceded by
Vladimir Ashkenazy
Principal Conductor, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Succeeded by
Ingo Metzmacher
Preceded by
no predecessor
Principal Conductor and Music Director, Los Angeles Opera
Succeeded by
James Conlon
Preceded by
Simone Young
Generalmusikdirektor, Hamburg State Opera
Succeeded by