Another Conductor Shake-up Coming to a Major North American Orchestra

Jul 5, 2017

Just recently, it was announced that conductor Alan Gilbert will be leaving the New York Philharmonic to go to Hamburg, Germany. Now it looks like the music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Kent Nagano, may be spending more time in Europe as well.

Nagano is leaving Montreal at the end of the 2019-20 season. That's about a decade-and-a-half run at the helm of this very fine orchestra from Canada.

The Montreal Symphony came into international prominence during the 25-year reign of its previous music director Charles Dutoit, in no small part due to the many fine recordings they made on the Decca label. They were particularly noted for outstanding recordings of the French repertoire (ravishing Ravel and delightful Debussy), earning the Montrealers the title of finest French orchestra in the world from some critics.

Their many fine recordings — not just of French composers, by the way — have been a mainstay in the Classical 101 music library. I am still particularly fond of the symphony's 1980s release of English composer Gustav Holst's symphonic suite The Planets. There's a refinement of playing from the orchestra and a clarity of sound from the Decca engineers that together made for a wonderful listening experience when these recordings were released, and they still sound good today.

I'm happy to report that the Montreal Symphony is still sounding good under Nagano's leadership. In recent weeks on my afternoon hosting spot on Classical 101, I've been presenting very enjoyable, more recent recordings from their cycle of the nine Beethoven symphonies on the Analekta label.

As noted in the article from the Montreal Gazette, 15 years is a good run for a music director, and Nagano has done well in a time of transition for the orchestra. He has focused more on Beethoven and less on the French repertoire for which Dutoit was known, but for many that seemed just fine.

Even though the symphony offered him an extension to stay on as music director, the timing of Nagano's departure seems agreeable to all concerned.

Like Gilbert, Nagano has a connection with Hamburg: he's the director of the Hamburg State Opera. He's also the principal guest conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony and has other European connections as well.

It seems as though Nagano will do just fine there as the Montreal Symphony begins the search for its next music director.