Maestro move: Fabio takes Tokyo

Maestro move: Fabio takes Tokyo


norman lebrecht

April 09, 2021

The NHK Symphony Orchestra has just named Fabio Luisi as chief conductor from September 2022.

Luisi, 62, is music director of the Dallas Symphony and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. He is just finishing a term with Zurich Opera so he has some slack in his hectic schedule.




  • John Kelly says:

    Good for Tokyo! Good orchestra and very good conductor (who I hope to hear in NY again one day)……..

    • Ricky Master says:

      One respectful question for SD Asian readers, or readers in general:

      Why leading Asian orchestras invariably pick a European maestro?

      I confess that I am not familiar enough with the Asian classical music scene, I probably would not be able to name the top 5 Asian orchestras. But it seems to me that the region has an abundance of very rich talent in classical music.

      In this sense, Asia is similar to the US, displaying what seems to be an attitude of deference towards Europe.

      Not trying to get on anybody’s nerves. I am just making an attempt to understand.

      • White worship says:

        Don’t. You will never understand unless you’re Asian.

      • Nick2 says:

        Leading Asian Orchestras have often opted for major western conductors – but it’s far from always. Myung Whun-chung had a hugely successful 10-year tenure at the Seoul Philharmonic before a politically appointed head of administration concocted allegations which eventually made him so annoyed he resigned.

        Lan Shui also had an enormously successful 22-year tenure as MD of the Singapore SO leading the orchestra on various western tours and at the London Prom concerts.

        The many symphony orchestras in Japan have mostly had Japanese Principal Conductors. From a long list I could mention (adding alongside some of the western orchestras and opera companies they have led) – Seiji Ozawa (Boston SO), Kajushi Ono (various European positions including MD at La Monnaie Opera), Tadaaki Otaka (National Orchestra of Wales, Principal Guest Melbourne SO), Akeo Watanabe (regular guest in Europe and America), Kazuyoshi Akiyama (MD American SO and Vancouver SO), Hiroyuki Iwaki (MD Melbourne Symphony, first Japanese to conduct Vienna Philharmonic), Ken’ichiro Kobayashi (Hungarian National Phil) and Hiroshi Wakasugi (important posts with Cologne, Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Tonhalle and Dresden Staatskapelle).

        All the above have served as Music Directors of one or more major Japanese orchestras. At one time around 35 years ago there were 12 symphony orchestras in Tokyo alone. Inevitably there was competition for Music Directors.

        The NHK Symphony has always invited western conductors to a variety of titled positions and as occasional guest conductors. These included von Matacic, Sawallisch, Blomstedt and Previn. But with just three exceptions – Dutoit, Ashkenazy and Paavo Jarvi – all its Music Directors since 1969 have been Japanese conductors.

        Other Tokyo orchestras have actually appointed more western conductors than the NHKSO. Principal Conductors of the Yomiuri Nippon SO have included Fruhbeck de Burgos, Albrecht, Skrowaczewski and Cambreling. But by far the majority of conductors in all orchestras are Japanese. I think the problem for those of us in the west is that we just do not know enough about them.

    • Sad! says:

      Actually bad! Same like with RPO and Gardner, or BRSO and Rattle, or whoever will be named at Concertgebouw: a major demotion!

  • J Barcelo says:

    Are there really so few conductors of this caliber that the NHK would take on someone who is already over-extended? The late Sir John Pritchard was highly critical of these jet set, world hopping conductors – it wasn’t good for the profession.

    • Although he is the Music Director in Dallas, Luisi conducts only about half of the 16-program classical season and none of the Pops season and none of the community concerts

      With schedules like that, even three orchestras won’t be an over-extension for a modern conductor.

      • Nick2 says:

        Far less over-extension than you might think. Principal Conductors in Japan tend to visit for chunks of time rather than just occasional 1 or 2 weeks. So I expect Fabio Luisi is likely to spend 2 spells of 4 weeks each year with perhaps an additional one of 2 or 3 weeks. Even that would be more than Jarvi gave them in the 2018/19 season. On the basis of the Jarvi’s own website, he gave only 23 concerts with the NHK Symphony that season. Bearing in mind that quite a few of these were repeat programmes and you can see that he gave the orchestra a minimal amount of time – certainly compared to that he gave his orchestras in Europe, the Tonhalle and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie.

        Remember also that Luisi is giving up the Zurich Opera. How many weeks does it take to prepare a new production of an opera – or even a revival – and then conduct lots of performances? During the 2019/20 season he was scheduled to conduct Arabella (part of February and all of March), I Vespri Siciliani (all of June to mid-July), Nabucco and Traviata (all of September to mid-October) Add in several concerts and Galas and you have at least 20 weeks. I have zero doubt he will be spending less time in Tokyo than the time he is giving up in Zurich, even after taking into account travel time and jet lag.

  • Novagerio says:

    Coming up: a cycle of the Carl Nielsen Symphonies, with the Danish National Radio Orchestra and Fabio – and on Deutsche Grammophon (!)
    Looking forward, actually!

  • fflambeau says:

    He’s very talented and the people of Tokyo love classical music (and can pay for it).

  • Barry says:

    He has been one of the more eagerly-anticipated guest conductors in recent, pre-COVID, Philadelphia Orchestra seasons. I assume we won’t be seeing much of him in the future with his new schedule.

    • John Kelly says:

      I suspect you’re right but I hope you’re wrong. I don’t mind the drive to Philly from NY if that’s what it takes…………

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    Conductors working as music directors/principal conductors/chief conductors of several orchestras is not positive for anyone: not good for the orchestras, not good for all those great conductors without a conducting position, not good for artistic diversity, not good for the environment (all those flights!), And it is not good for music. I suffer it in my orchestra, with a conductor who spends half one third with an US-American orchestra, more than one third guest conducting, and less than one third with us