Kent Nagano is considered one of the outstanding conductors for both operatic and orchestral repertoire. He has been General Music Director of the Hamburg State Opera and Chief Conductor of the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra since September 2015. From 2006 to 2020, he was Music Director of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and was appointed Conductor Emeritus in February 2021. In 2006 he was appointed Honorary Conductor of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and in 2019 of Concerto Köln, the Baroque orchestra which he is working together with in the project Wagner Readings.
Kent Nagano’s past years in Hamburg include the premieres of Berlioz‘ Les Troyens, Hosokawa’s Stilles Meer, Messiaen’s Turangalîla with the Hamburg Ballett and John Neumeier, the premieres of Wagner’s Parsifal and Beethoven’s Fidelio, Berg’s Lulu and Strauss’ Frau ohne Schatten and the „Philharmonische Akademie“ – a project in the tradition of musical academies of the 18th and 19th centuries, which launches each new opera and concert season and features not only special performance venues, but also a major open-air concert on Hamburg’s Rathausmarkt. Nagano and the Philharmonic undertook successful concert tours in South America, Spain and Japan. Since 2017 Kent Nagano and the Philharmonic State Orchestra have continued the traditional Philharmonic Concerts at the new Elbphilharmonie, for which they commissioned Jörg Widmann to compose the oratorio ARCHE on the occasion of the inauguration of the Elbphilharmonie in January 2017. The live recording of this concert was released on CD by ECM in autumn 2018. In January 2020 Nagano and the orchestra presented the world premiere of Pascal Dusapin’s Waves for organ and orchestra at the Elbphilharmonie.
As a much sought-after guest conductor, Kent Nagano has worked with the world’s leading international orchestras, including the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, the NHK Symphony Orchestra, the Finnish Radio Orchestra, the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 2014-2016, he led his own festival, called Vorsprung-Festival, as part of the AUDI Sommerkonzerte. Other special projects included productions of Mozart’s Idomeneo with Concerto Köln and the Bernstein opera A quiet place with the Ensemble Modern in a new version premiered in Berlin in November 2013.
A highlight of Kent Nagano’s collaboration with the OSM as Music Director from 2006 to 2020 was the inauguration of the orchestra’s new concert hall La Maison Symphonique in September 2011. In October 2016, he conducted the world premiere of José Evangelista’s Accelerando – a commission by the OSM on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Montréal’s metro. In November 2006 he conducted a semi-staged production of the Matthäus-Passion. In previous years, Nagano and the orchestra have performed the complete cycles of Beethoven and Mahler symphonies, Schönberg’s Gurrelieder, concert versions of Wagner’s Tannhäuser, Tristan and Isolde and Das Rheingold, Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher and Messiaen’s Saint François d’Assise. In July 2018, Kent Nagano conducted Krzysztof Penderecki’s St. Luke Passion with the OSM on the occasion of the Salzburg Festival opening concert. Tours have taken Nagano and the orchestra to Canada, Japan, South Korea, Europe, South America and the USA, with stops in Washington, Boston and New York. He and the orchestra toured Europe in March 2019, including Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Paris and Vienna.
His recordings with the OSM on Sony Classical/Analekta include Mahler’s Orchestral Songs with Christian Gerhaher, Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos. 4 & 5 and a complete recording of all of Beethoven’s symphonies, for which the album Ideals of the French Revolution with Symphony No. 5 won a Juno award. In March 2016, Decca released a recording of the North American premiere of L’Aiglon, a rarely performed opera by Honegger and Ibert, conducted by Nagano in March 2015, on CD. Further releases by Decca are Danse Macabre with works by Dukas, Saint-Saens, Ives and others in autumn 2016 and a recording of Bernstein’s A quiet place in June 2018 on the occasion of the composer’s 100th birthday. John Adams’ Common tones in simple time & harmony (Decca) was released in 2019, the Lukas Passion by Penderecki (BIS) in June 2020 and in November 2020 the recording of works by Ginastera, Bernstein and Moussa was released by ANALEKTA.
At the Bayerische Staatsoper, where he was General Music Director from 2006 to 2013, Kent Nagano commissioned new operas such as Babylon by Jörg Widmann, Das Gehege by Wolfgang Rihm and Alice in Wonderland by Unsuk Chin. New productions included Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina, Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos and The Silent Woman, Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites, Messiaen’s Saint François d’Assise, Berg’s Wozzeck, George Benjamin’s Written on skin and Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. Tours took Nagano and the Bavarian State Orchestra through Europe and Japan. In addition to Bruckner’s Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 (Sony), Kent Nagano has released several opera performances with the Bavarian State Orchestra on DVD: Unsuk Chin’s opera Alice in Wonderland (2008) and Mussorgsky’s Chowanschtschina (2009) with unitel classica/medici arts, Dialogue des Carmélites with Bel Air Classiques (2011) and Lohengrin (2010) with Decca.
Another very important period in Nagano’s career was his time as Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin from 2000-2006. He performed Schönberg’s Moses und Aron with the orchestra (in collaboration with Los Angeles Opera), and took them to the Salzburg Festival to perform both Zemlinsky’s Der König Kandaules and Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, as well as to the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden with Parsifal and Lohengrin in productions by Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Recordings with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin for Harmonia Mundi include repertoire as diverse as Bernstein’s Mass, Bruckner’s Symphonies Nos. 3 & 6, Beethoven’s Christus am Ölberge, Wolf’s Mörike-Lieder, Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, Schönberg’s Die Jakobsleiter and Friede auf Erden, as well as Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 and Schönberg’s Variationen für Orchester Op. 31. In June 2006, at the end of his tenure with the orchestra, Kent Nagano was given the title Honorary Conductor by members of the orchestra, only the second recipient of this honour in their 60-year history. To this day he maintains a close friendship with the orchestra.
Kent Nagano became the first Music Director of Los Angeles Opera in 2003 having already held the position of Principal Conductor for two years. His work in other opera houses has included Shostakovich’s The Nose at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden Berlin, Rimsky-Korsakoff’s The Golden Cockerel at the Châtelet in Paris, Hindemith’s Cardillac and Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at the Opéra National de Paris, and Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann and the premiere of Saariaho’s L’amour de loin at the Salzburg Festival. Other world premieres he has conducted include Bernstein’s A White House Cantata and the operas Three Sisters by Peter Eötvös and The Death of Klinghoffer and El Niño by John Adams.
Nagano has worked with labels such as Decca, Sony Classical, FARAO Classics and Analekta for many years, but he has also recorded CDs with BIS, Berlin Classics, Erato, Teldec, Pentatone, Deutsche Grammophon and Harmonia Mundi. He was awarded Grammys for his recordings of Busoni’s Doktor Faust with Opéra National de Lyon, Prokofjew’s Peter and the Wolf with the Russian National Orchestra and Saariaho’s L’amour de Loin with the Deutsches Symphonieorchester Berlin.
In October 2019, Kent Nagano and Mari Kodama expanded their joint recordings of Beethoven’s works for piano and orchestra with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 0 E-flat Major WoO 4, a nearly unknown youthful work by the composer, and his Rondo for Piano and Orchestra WoO 6 with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. The 4-CD edition was released on the Berlin Classics label.
Born in California, Nagano maintains close connections with his home state and was Music Director of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra from 1978-2009. His first major successes came with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1984, when Messiaen appointed him assistant to conductor Seiji Ozawas for the premiere of his opera Saint François d’Assise. Nagano’s success in America led to European appointments: Music Director of Opéra National de Lyon (1988-1998) and Music Director of the Hallé Orchestra (1991-2000).
In 2015 Kent Nagano published “Erwarten Sie Wunder!” in Berlin Verlag, a passionate appeal for the relevance of classical music in today’s world. In 2019 the book was published in English by the Canadian McGill-Queen’s University Press under the title ″Classical Music – Expect the Unexpected” and in 2015 under “Sonnez, merveilles!” in French by Éditions du Boréal.
Kent Nagano was awarded an honorary doctorate from McGill University in Montréal in 2005, an honorary doctorate from the Université de Montréal in 2006, and an honorary doctorate from San Francisco State University in 2018.