Born: Nov 22, 1951 in Morro Bay, CA
Genre: Orchestral Music, Opera, Concerto
Given the impact of his career upon music, it seems incredible that Kent Nagano almost became a lawyer. Despite thorough musical training beginning at age six and obvious talent, Nagano simultaneously worked toward degrees at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in sociology and music in 1974 before moving on to San Francisco State University in 1976 to study law. There, composition courses with Grosvenor Cooper and Roger Nixon turned him toward music, and an encounter with Laszlo Varga - former first cellist of the New York Philharmonic under Walter, Mitropoulos, and Bernstein - prompted him toward conducting. Though he no longer composes, Nagano has said, "While I seemed to be quite able from the point of view of craftsmanship, I was not very good at the creative aspects! However, having the skills of composition only increases the admiration that one can have for the exceptionally talented who have composed great works." His apprenticeship was spent under Sarah Caldwell at the Opera Company of Boston from 1977 to 1979, where he eventually became assistant conductor. In 1978 he was named music director of the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, a post he has continuously held. It was with the Berkeley Symphony in 1982 where he led the first American performance of Pfitzner's opera Palestrina. As assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he stood in, without rehearsal, to conduct Mahler's Symphony No. 9 in 1984. An adventurous spirit and a major interpretive grasp were clearly at work. These traits were confirmed when Olivier Messiaen tapped Nagano to assist Seiji Ozawa in preparing the world premiere of his sprawling, luminous opera Saint Francoise d'Assisse in 1984, a work Nagano later recorded. His years as musical director of the Opera National de Lyon (1988-1998) were marked by a number of distinguished premieres (including Peter Eotvos' opera Three Sisters, which he commissioned) and recordings, among the latter, Debussy's abandoned opera Rodrigue et Chimene, John Adams' Death of Klinghoffer, Busoni's comic opera double bill of Arlecchino and Turandot, and his testament, the unfinished Doktor Faust (with alternate completions by Philipp Jarnach and Antony Beaumont). As music director of the Halle Orchestra from 1991-2000, he recorded John Adams' El Nino and the four-act version of Britten's Billy Budd. Nagano is a frequent guest conductor with the world's greatest orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Dresden Staatskapelle, and the Russian National Orchestra. He was named music advisor to the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal for 2004-05.
- Adrian Corleonis (All Music Guide)