Home : Musicians : Maestro Kent Nagano

Maestro Nagano
Orchestra History

Profiles of Orchestra Members:
Matt Brubeck
Diana Dorman
Janet Maestre
Deborah Shidler
Michel Taddei
Ward Spangler


Order a CD of Kent Nagano's
from Amazon.com:

Violin Concerto
(with Gidon Kremer)

Saint Francois d'Assise

Dialogues des Carmelites

Vol. 1 (1920-1927)


Maestro Kent Nagano

Maestro Kent Nagano

Kent Nagano has been Music Director and Conductor of the Berkeley Symphony since 1978. During that time he has elevated the Orchestra to national recognition for its performances of the music of Olivier Messiaen (on two occasions attended by the composer) and for its championing of contemporary music through an acclaimed series of world, U.S. and West Coast premieres.

In the fall of 2000, he assumed the position of Music Director of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, and in fall 2001 he began as Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Opera. He has been Associate Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony since 1990, was Music Director and Principal Conductor of England´s famed Hallé Orchestra (Manchester) from 1991 to 2000 and Music Director of the Opéra de Lyon from 1989 to 1998.

Maestro Nagano's ever increasing guest conducting appearances include successful debuts with the Paris Opera, La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Los Angeles Opera, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Salzburg Festival and many other orchestras and opera companies. He has also served as Music Director of California's prestigious Ojai Festival for two consecutive seasons (succeeding Pierre Boulez) and recently returned there for a third season as guest conductor.

With a repertoire of more than 60 standard operas, Nagano has distinguished himself by leading highly unusual works. He has introduced Messiaen's first and only opera, St. François d'Assise, in a number of music centers, including London (where a section was televised) and Amsterdam (where it was recorded). More recently, he revived it to great acclaim at the 1998 Salzburg Festival, conducting the Hallé Orchestra. He also conducted the world premieres of John Adams' Death of Klinghoffer and Debussy's unperformed opera Rodriguez et Chimene (to celebrate the opening of the renovated Lyon opera house), and recorded both of these works, winning the Grand Prix du Disque for the latter recording. In 1997 he gave the world premiere of Leonard Bernstein's White House Cantata (posthumously issued) with the London Symphony and performed and recorded Benjamin Britten's original and neglected four-act version of Billy Budd with the Hallé Orchestra. Other significant milestones include his performance and recording of the original version of Mahler's Das klagende Lied with the Hall» Orchestra and performances of Darius Milhaud's Christoph Colomb and Adams' Nixon in China.

Both the Lyon Opera and the Hallé Orchestra have toured extensively throughout the world under Nagano's leadership, including a Bay Area series of opera and ballet performances by the Lyon Opera and a series of concerts at the Hollywood Bowl by the Hallé Orchestra.

For a career that burst upon the international scene little over ten years ago, Kent Nagano has made an astonishing number of recordings, which have garnered rave reviews and many awards. For EMI/Virgin Classics he has recorded Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges, Richard Strauss' Salomé (in the French version), Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites, Busoni's Turandot/Arlecchino, Carlisle Floyd's Susannah and the original version of Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos, all with the Lyon Opera.

Today Nagano is exclusively with Time Warner/Erato Records, and for this label he has recorded Berlioz' Damnation of Faust; Britten's Phaedra/The Rescue of Penelope; the afore-mentioned Rodrigue et Chimene; Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress; Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann; John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer; and Massenet's Werther, all with the Lyon Opera; and, independently from Lyon, Puccini's La Boheme. With the London Symphony he has recorded two CDs of Ravel compositions, the complete Daphnis et Chloe and, on another disc, Valse Nobles, La Valse, Rapsodie Espagnol and Menuet Antique. Also for Time Warner/Erato he has recorded Milhaud's Cello Concertos with Mstislav Rostropovich and the London Symphony; VarÀse's complete orchestral works with the Orchestre National de France; and John Adams' Violin Concerto with Gidon Kramer and the London Symphony. With the Hallé Orchestra he has recorded a CD including Prokofiev's Violin Concerto no. 2 and Shostakovich's Violin Concerto no. 1, with Vadim Repin as soloist; the original, rarely performed, four-act version of Britten's Billy Budd; and the never performed original version of Mahler's Das klagende Lied. On a loan-out basis to D.G.G. he recorded the 1998 Salzburg Festival production of Messiaen's St. François d'Assise, and his last recording with the Lyon Opera forces, Peter Eötvös' opera Three Sisters and Leonard Bernstein's White House Cantata.

The son of Japanese-American Nisei immigrants, Kent Nagano was born on a farm in Morro Bay, California and was trained in both Japanese and Western traditions. He was playing piano by the age of four and by the time he entered high school was proficient on the viola and clarinet. He was awarded a B.A. with highest honors in both sociology and music from the University of California at Santa Cruz, which recently honored him with their Alumni Achievement Award. He received an M.A. in music from San Francisco State University and in 1994 received that school's Alumni Achievement of the Year Award, together with astronaut Sally Ride. While continuing his studies in piano, voice, viola and musicology, he served as an assistant to Laszlo Varga at San Francisco State, Calvin Simmons at the Oakland Symphony and Sarah Caldwell at the Opera Company of Boston.

In 1984, Nagano received worldwide recognition after successfully conducting the Boston Symphony in a performance of Mahler's Symphony no. 9 on one day's notice without rehearsal and without having previously conducted the work. Subsequently he was named one of two co-winners of the first Seaver/NEA Conductors Award, a $75,000 cash prize that he used to pursue further conducting studies with Seiji Ozawa, Pierre Boulez, Leonard Bernstein, Bernard Haitink and Claudio Abbado.

Kent Nagano has received numerous honors for his recordings and for his work in France and England. In 1993 he was named an "Officer" in the Order of Arts and Letters, France's second highest civilian honor. That same year he was also awarded the prestigious Grand Prize in the Interpretation of Contemporary French Music by the French Society of Authors, Composers and Music Editors (SACEM). In 1992 he was chosen "Personality of the Year" by a major syndicate of French newspapers and magazines and was also nominated for an International Classical Music Award in England as "Conductor of the Year." He has won two Grammy Awards (for Susannah and Peter and the Wolf) in addition to several Grammy Nominations. Other honors have included the Edison Award, several Gramophone magazine awards and the Grand Prix du Disque for both Rodrigue et Chimene and La Damnation de Faust.

Some Recent Reviews

"The international game of musical chairs is something Nagano can play well. Last January he was appointed music director of the German Symphony Orchestra in Berlin, the former Radio Symphony Orchestra known to music collectors as RIAS. He has what amounts to an open invitation to return to conduct at the Salzburg Festival, with triumphs in the past two festivals that include productions of Olivier Messiaen's Saint Francois d'Assise and Ferruccio Busoni's Doktor Faust. His growing discography, already an impressive panorama of some of the century's most exciting music, boasts Grammy and Gramophone awards and promises forthcoming projects like Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic."

—Octavio Roca
"Maestro's Musical Chairs"
San Francisco Chronicle
NOVEMBER 7, 1999

"A new recording of 'St. Francois' under Kent Nagano at Salzburg is radiant and often thrilling . . . The orchestral performance in the new recording, by the Hallé Orchestra under the direction of Mr. Nagano, is strong and often thrilling. Mr. Nagano has known this score since it was being written, and through his command of tempo and sonority he makes it sound out full and clear. One hears Messiaen's exultant embrace of all kinds of chords, timbres and textures: an embrace so contrary to the confinement and reduction that other composers have recently felt necessary to express the spiritual life. . . . Now there is a permanent record of Messiaen's vision in all its splendor."

—Paul Griffiths
"Messiaen's Excursion Into Rapturous Opera"
The New York Times



© 1999-2001 Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. All rights reserved.