Kent Nagano bows out at Montreal

His 16th and final season will open with Shostakovich Babi Yar symphony and end on Mahler’s Resurrection.

His comment, as so often, is a platitude: ‘Nearly twenty years after my very first collaboration with the OSM as a guest conductor, the 2019–2020 season provides the Orchestra with a new opportunity to offer themes that engage with a variety of perspectives and experiences: we hope they will be a source of wonder and vitality for our audience members while remaining at the forefront of our modern lives.’



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    • Maybe so – have only heard him live once with LSO and I can’t remember a thing apart from the fact that I don’t want to hear him again. However, he gets the jobs somehow – maybe one should not ask how…

    • I don’t know. I saw him conduct the OSM once, and it seemed fine and Montreal fell in love with him and it doesn’t seem to have cooled in the subsequent 15 years.

      So how about providing a little insight? Have you played under him in an orchestra? Have you seen him rehearse? Have you talked to musicians who have extensive experience working with him? Have you seen/heard a number of his performances such that you have a sense of how he interprets things?

      I tend to think conductors who regularly get work with top-level ensembles are generally pretty good; if not they get found out pretty quickly and musicians these days aren’t shy about letting management know what they think of the conductors who appear before them.

      Details, please? Otherwise a statement like is just trolling and a waste of cyberspace (including mine in writing this comment, I suppose).

        • The musicians I have talked to in the orchestra could not disagree any more. There is no doubt he has been excellent for the orchestra – re-establishing the orchestra after the Dutoit departure chaos, hiring a new excellent concertmaster (Andrew Wan – not only his job, but he reportedly offered Wan the job), multiple pretty good recordings (Beethoven concertos with Till Fellner, Beethoven symphonies, French repertoire, orchestra soloists), a new hall which he managed to convince the government to build, and a strong media presence by the OSM.
          The OSM plays regularly to sold out halls – almost always when Nagano is conducting. Is he perfect? Of course not. But is he a very good conductor? Definitely.
          As for being “not a nice man”, I have not heard a whisper of that being true, so I assume you’re just being malicious.

          • Yes, the fourth and fifth concerti with Fellner contain some excellent Beethoven conducting.

      • I played under him a number of times. Very unhappy, unmusical experiences. The description of him as being “amateurish” feels about right — as is: soul-less.

    • He is not that bad. I’ve heard him conduct excellent performances of Repons by Boulez & Shostakovich Symphony no 15 in Hamburg. His Tristan & Isolde was not bad either. On the other hand, his Brahms Requiem performance was mediocre.

    • He’s an excellent conductor. Nagano has been described as a conductor of precision and elegance and I think that fits. Sometimes I like a conductor who likes to wallow in romantic excess, but that’s what guest conductors are for.

  • To avoid platitudes, one shall restrict one’s reading to Daily Mail and one or two consistently interesting blogs.

  • Mmmh, Cheap (or sheep ?) shot.

    MSO were half empty at the end of Dutoit era; they are full since Nagano is there.

    You must have something interesting to say when (as Nagano) you do a performance of Messiaen’s music that is far more than “Ok, at least we played almost all the notes”.

    • Indeed. I was in Montreal for Dutoit’s last season and the house was rarely more than half full. The orchestra did sound great, though. Nagano came after I left so I don’t have much basis to judge his tenure.

      I don’t, however, find his final season programming all that compelling given the hip and innovative image he and the orchestra have tried to cultivate over the years.

    • They speak French so it’s OSM, not MSO. It’s more full because it’s a smaller hall. The old hall, Wilfrid Pelletier, could hold 3000 people. The new Maison Symphonique only holds 2100. But it’s an infinitely better hall.

      • Attendance went up significantly when Nagano took over, still in SWP. It wasn’t just the new hall; whatever his musicmaking, he developed a cool and hip brand that has persisted through most of his tenure.

  • Our host’s indifference to some conductors and pianists is probably derived from the fact that they don’t demonstrate the kind of emotional excess a Klaus Tennstedt or a Daniil Trifonov demonstrates.

  • Platitudes? The OSM has hardly played any Shostakovich under Nagano. A cursory look at the season shows commitment to the idea of “a variety of perspectives and experiences.” This is not a complacent ‘greatest hits’ season, far from it.
    Oh, and by the way, since NL has been harping on this point for the past weeks: Even though he is an accomplished Beethoven conductor, Nagano did not program a Beethoven cycle. But sure, why not bring out the snark, it’s easy…

  • Fine conductor. His Turangalilia and Cantaloube are excellent.
    One time I saw him live was…disappointing. And his Zappa isn’t my favorite.

  • most overrated conductor around and typical for our time that he made a name but maybe liked by our sophisticated critics as they prefer low class music making and staging

  • Aren’t such statements always platitudes? Has anyone ever said “We are happy to be ending this relationship at last?”
    I do not like or didlike Nagano and have not seen him conduct live, but I will defend him from unqualified criticism. I don’t think someone that can produce first-rate recordings of Poulenc’s “Carmelites,” Messaien’s “Francis,” Prokofiev’s “Love for three oranges,” Wagner’s “Parsifal,” Berlioz’ “Nuits,” Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” Brahms 4, Mahler 8, and Bruckner 6 is clearly at least competent.

  • Never seen him conduct live. I have a couple of recordings (Billy Budd on Erato with Thomas Hampson, and Das Lied with OSM) that I like very much.

    The “bad conductor” comments about him never seem to include any reason why he’s such a “bad conductor.” He just is, I guess.

    So here’s what I like about him, based on not-very-wide experience of his conducting:

    • Clarity of lines. He doesn’t let the music turn into a big “wash” of sound that might be gorgeous but you can’t really hear anything.
    • He keeps things moving. He doesn’t wallow. (goes hand-in-hand with previous comment) The actual noise the orchestra produces might be less lush and opulent than with some other conductors, but the music doesn’t lose its forward movement (especially appreciated in Mahler, who shows you so many trees it can be hard to remember there’s a forest).
    • Just remembered I have his Beethoven #6 and #8 in my computer, purchased from Amazon a long time ago. Listening to #6 now, I hear that same clarity I was talking about, but combined with a surprisingly robust sound — not at all lean, like I was expecting. He also doesn’t do a lot of the little ritards and accelerandi that conductors like to do. It’s refreshing to hear the music keep moving; then when he does do one, it sounds thought out and elegant. He achieves a lot of structural contrast with dynamics rather than tempo changes.

    So anyway, those are reasons I think he’s a good conductor.

    (There will always be those who feel that Toscanini, or Furtwangler, or Bruno Walter, or whoever, will always be the greatest, no matter who comes along after them. I feel like those people are mostly afraid that the old masters will be forgotten if too much attention is paid to the new guard. They shouldn’t worry.)

    • P.S. oh right — in reaction to “msc”s comment (just above mine if you set comments by oldest), I forgot I had his “Carmelites” recording.

      Same comments as for other recordings: clean, clear playing; clean, clear singing (nobody is allowed to chew the scenery). The final scene gains a sort of clinical horror from not being performed in a “hey everybody, listen — this is tragic” kind of way.

      I also have an odd little “Ariadne auf Naxos” recording I didn’t talk about before, where Act I is actually the “Burgher aus Edelmann” music, not the usual Prologue, and Act II is “the opera in one act” Ariadne auf Naxos. (Apparently this is how Strauss first intended the work, but the format was a flop with audiences, so he wrote what we now think of as Act I.) It has a knockout cast, though: Margaret Price, Sumi Jo, and Gosta Windbergh. (Nobody singing The Composer, since that part of the piece is not included.) If you don’t agree that’s a knockout cast, then I’m not sure I can help you.

      Anyway, it’s distinctive in that for once the euphoric ending does NOT seem to go on and on forever and ever like Act II of Tristan. Ariadne and Bacchus sing a gorgeous duet, and we’re done. Seems like more operas could benefit from such a treatment. (Hmmm, I wonder if he ever recorded “Die Tote Stadt”…)

  • I am sure the same haters here would vote Yuja Wang to be the best female conductor of the 21th century if she decides to wave a toothpick or dance around a pole on the stage.

  • It is surprising what can be achieved when one has the ambition.For most,in this field of endeavor,it is talent that motivates and inspires the hard work and sacrifice and ambition required to succeed.For some it is the pursuit of power and admiration.Maestro Nagano has certainly earned this title but in the process has caused otherwise fine musicians to compromise their integrity by being subtlety coerced into accepting mediocrity.

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