By Anne Midgette Classical music critic/The Classical Beat
Months before it was expected, the National Symphony Orchestra has named Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda, 51, as its seventh music director, taking over at the start of the 2017-2018 season. He will succeed Christoph Eschenbach, whose contract expires in 2017.
It’s a coup for the NSO. Noseda is a star at the world’s leading orchestra and opera houses, including the Mariinsky Theatre, where he became the company’s first foreign-born principal guest conductor at the start of his career; the Israel Philharmonic, where he is principal guest conductor; and the Metropolitan Opera, where he opened the new production of Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” on New Year’s Eve to considerable acclaim. Musical America named him its 2015 Conductor of the Year.
Even better for the orchestra, he — unlike some of the NSO’s previous music directors — combines international prestige with solid conducting technique. In his previous two music directorships — the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester, England, and the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, a post he still holds — he has patiently brought mid-level ensembles to new heights of artistry and recognition. Teatro Regio made its first North American tour in 2014; critics in New York and Chicago counted its performances of Rossini’s “William Tell” as a highlight of the year.
He has worked well with the NSO, an orchestra he first conducted in 2011, and to which he returned in November. “I found a fantastic attitude. . . . I felt very naturally committed with them, in a normal sort of way,” Noseda said Saturday in a hotel lobby in New York. “What really impressed me is the development we got together, from the first rehearsal to the first concert, and how much the quality was increasing in the next two performances.”
He added, “You see in the eyes of the players, the wish. ‘We can do it, we have just to be asked to do it, we want to deliver.’ ”
Deborah Rutter, the Kennedy Center’s president, said, “I knew he was a great musician and a really generous, warm man. I didn’t know what the chemistry would be like.” After the first rehearsals, she said, speaking by phone Sunday evening, “people were calling me saying, ‘The musicians are going crazy down here.’ We didn’t want to miss out on anything. We wanted to strike while the iron was hot.”
The swift move may be perceived as a victory for Rutter, who arrived in Washington in 2014 bearing the weight of high expectations for the music director search based on her track record of securing Riccardo Muti as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when she was that orchestra’s president. Noseda doesn’t yet have Muti’s stature, but he is also an Italian conductor with a significant international career who specializes in both orchestral conducting and opera.
The search committee included NSO musicians, board members and members of the administration, and Rutter was only one voice at the table. “This has been a group process,” she said. And the committee, which began convening a few weeks after February’s announcement that Christoph Eschenbach would not extend his contract as music director beyond 2017, identified Noseda as a person of interest early on, without, participants say, more input from Rutter than anyone else.
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