Kent Nagano

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Kent George Nagano
Nagano photographed by Rory Carnegie
Kent George Nagano

(1951-11-22) November 22, 1951 (age 72)
Known forPioneer of historically informed performance

Kent George Nagano GOQ, MSM (born November 22, 1951) is an American conductor and opera administrator. Since 2015, he has been Generalmusikdirektor (GMD) of the Hamburg State Opera (until 2025).

Early life and education[edit]

Nagano was born in Berkeley, California, while his parents were in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a sansei (third-generation) Japanese-American.[1]

He grew up in Morro Bay, a city located on the Central Coast of California in San Luis Obispo County. He studied sociology and music at the University of California, Santa Cruz.[2] After graduation, he moved to San Francisco State University to study music. While there, he took composition courses from Grosvenor Cooper and Roger Nixon. He also studied at the École Normale de Musique de Paris.


Nagano's first conducting job was with the Opera Company of Boston, where he was assistant conductor to Sarah Caldwell. In 1978, he became the conductor of the Berkeley Symphony, his first music directorship. He stepped down from this position in 2009.[3][4] During his tenure in Berkeley, Nagano became a champion of the music of Olivier Messiaen and initiated a correspondence with him.[5] He was later invited to work with Messiaen on the final stages of his opera Saint François d'Assise in Paris, where he lived with Messiaen and his wife Yvonne Loriod, whom he came to regard as his "European parents".[6]

In 1982, Nagano conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in several of Frank Zappa's completely orchestral compositions for the first time. Nagano recorded several of Zappa's pieces on the issue London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. 1, where Zappa had personally chosen Nagano to conduct the orchestra. Nagano described this as "my first chance, my first real break".[7] In 1984, while assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he stepped in for Seiji Ozawa on short notice and without rehearsal,[8] receiving acclaim from the audience, orchestra, and Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer for a "noble performance"[9] of Mahler's Ninth Symphony.

Beginning in 1985, Nagano was the Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival four separate times, the last in 2004, and once alongside Stephen Mosko in 1986.

Nagano has a long history of inventive programming, particularly in the chamber music repertoire. It is impossible not to mention his legendary collaboration with Icelandic artist Björk at the 1996 Verbier Festival performing Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire.

In October 2020, Nagano was elected as a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in consideration of "his eminent merits in the musical art".

Lyon and Manchester[edit]

Nagano was music director of the Opéra National de Lyon from 1988 to 1998, where he recorded, with the Lyon National Opera Orchestra and chorus, numerous works including Busoni's Doktor Faust, Arlecchino and Turandot, Prokofiev's L'amour des trois oranges, Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann, the premiere of Debussy's Rodrigue et Chimène, Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne, Berlioz's La damnation de Faust, Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, operas by Richard Strauss, the French version of Salomé and the original version of Ariadne auf Naxos, Peter Eötvös' Tri sestry, Massenet's Werther, Delibes' Coppélia, Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites, orchestral works by Maurice Ravel, and Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins.

Nagano served as principal conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester from 1992 to 1999. During his tenure, Nagano received criticism for his expensive and ambitious programming, as well as his conducting fees.[10] However, poor financial management at the orchestra separately contributed to the fiscal troubles of the orchestra.[11] His contract was not renewed after 1999.

Berlin and Los Angeles[edit]

Nagano became principal conductor and artistic director of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in 2000, and served in this position until 2006. He made a number of recordings with the orchestra, including music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Bruckner, Alexander von Zemlinsky, and Gustav Mahler.

Nagano became principal conductor of the Los Angeles Opera (LA Opera) with the 2001–2002 season. In May 2003, Nagano was named the LA Opera's first music director, and he retained this position through 2006.


Nagano is the president of the European Opera Centre, Liverpool.[12]

Recent work[edit]

He has been a regular guest at the Salzburg Festival, where he premiered Kaija Saariaho's L'amour de loin in 2000. He also conducted the world premiere of John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer at la Monnaie in Brussels.

In Oper für Alle, Munich, 2010

In 2006, Nagano became both the music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (OSM) and GMD of the Bavarian State Opera. His contract with the Bavarian State Opera did not allow him to be the music director of another opera company.[13] He concluded his Bavarian State Opera tenure in 2013.[14] With the OSM, he has conducted commercial recordings for such labels as ECM New Series. Nagano concluded his OSM tenure at the end of the 2019–2020 season.[15]

Nagano has served as one of the Russian National Orchestra's Conductor Collegium.[16] In August 2012, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra announced the appointment of Nagano as its principal guest conductor and artistic advisor, as of the 2013–2014 season, with an initial contract of 3 years.[17] In September 2012, the Hamburg State Opera announced the appointment of Nagano as its next Generalmusikdirektor (General Music Director) and Chefdirigent (chief conductor), effective with the 2015–2016 season,[18] with an initial contract through the 2019–2020 season.[19] In October 2017, the company announced the extension of Nagano's Hamburg contract through 2025.[20] Nagano is scheduled to conclude his Hamburg State Opera tenure as GMD at the close of the 2024–2025 season.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Nagano is married to pianist Mari Kodama.[22] The couple has one daughter, Karin Kei Nagano.[23]


Selected discography[edit]


  1. ^ Asakawa, Gil. (2012). Being Japanese American, p. 79.
  2. ^ Nagano, Kent. "University & Career in Music". Kent Nagano. Archived from the original on June 24, 2015. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  3. ^ Bullock, Ken (January 23, 2007). "Kent Nagano to Step Down as Berkeley Symphony Music Director". Berkeley Daily Planet. Retrieved October 8, 2018.
  4. ^ "Joana Carneiro named Berkeley Symphony music director" (PDF). Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. January 15, 2009. Retrieved June 11, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Allan Kozinn (November 1, 1987). "Nagano With a Little Bit of Luck, a Conducting Career Flourishes". New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2007.
  6. ^ Shirley Apthorp, "The quiet achiever", AB Radio 24 Hours, October 1995, p. 26
  7. ^ Burnett, Richard (September 4, 2008). "Nagano grooves". Hour. Archived from the original on September 22, 2008. Retrieved September 4, 2008.
  8. ^ Miller, Margo (December 9, 1984). "A Busy Young Maestro Gets To Sub For His Idol". Boston Globe. Retrieved March 15, 2016.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Dyer, Richard (December 1, 1984). "BSO Hails Nagano After Triumph". Boston Globe. Retrieved March 15, 2016.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ John Ezard (May 25, 1999). "Nagano passes on Halle baton". The Guardian. Retrieved June 16, 2007.
  11. ^ Stephen Moss (May 28, 1999). "Say Hallé, wave goodbye". The Guardian. Retrieved June 16, 2007.
  12. ^ "European Opera Centre - leadership". europeanoperacentre (in French). Retrieved January 30, 2024.
  13. ^ Daniel J. Wakin (September 17, 2004). "National Briefing, West: California: Short Stay For A Music Director". New York Times. Retrieved June 16, 2007.
  14. ^ "Star Munich opera director Nagano resigns amid controversy". The Local. July 6, 2010. Retrieved August 8, 2012.
  15. ^ Arthur Kaptainis (June 29, 2017). "Kent Nagano has timed his departure from the OSM just right". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
  16. ^ Vadim Prokhorov (March 18, 2004). "Batons at dawn". The Guardian. Retrieved June 16, 2007.
  17. ^ Malin Clausson (August 30, 2012). "Nagano tar över efter Dudamel". Göteborgs-Posten. Archived from the original on September 2, 2012. Retrieved September 3, 2012.
  18. ^ Arthur Kaptainis (August 3, 2012). "OSM's Nagano to Hamburg Opera in 2015". Montreal Gazette. Archived from the original on October 11, 2012. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
  19. ^ Charlotte Smith (September 26, 2012). "Kent Nagano appointed music director of Hamburg State Opera from 2015". Gramophone. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  20. ^ "Kent Nagano verlängert – und Kühne gibt Millionen". Hamburger Abendblatt. October 4, 2017. Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  21. ^ "Omer Meir Wellber wird neuer Hamburgischer Generalmusikdirektor beim Philharmonischen Staatsorchester und Generalmusikdirektor und Chefdirigent der Hamburgischen Staatsoper" (Press release). City of Hamburg. February 24, 2023. Retrieved March 28, 2023.
  22. ^ Bill Brownstein (May 22, 2015). "The maestro revealed: Kent Nagano marches to his own beat". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved June 28, 2017.
  23. ^ Bill Brownstein (April 1, 2017). "From musical star to medical student: Karin Kei Nagano takes her cue from her parents". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved June 28, 2017.
  24. ^ Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), "2008 Autumn Conferment of Decorations on Foreign Nationals," p. 6; Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  25. ^ General, Office of the Secretary to the Governor. "Mr. Kent Nagano". The Governor General of Canada.
  26. ^ "Canada Gazette – Government House". Public Works and Government Services Canada. January 2, 2016.
  27. ^ "Les nominations a l'Ordre national du Québec 2014" (PDF). (in French). Retrieved July 15, 2023.
  28. ^ "Zwei große Ehrungen an einem Abend in der Elbphilharmonie". (in German). Retrieved May 1, 2023.
  29. ^ Jeal, Erica (March 17, 2016). "Honegger/Ibert: L'Aiglon CD review – convincing version of a stirring opera". The Guardian. Retrieved July 1, 2017.

External links[edit]

Cultural offices
Preceded by Music Director, Opéra National de Lyon
Succeeded by
Preceded by Principal Conductor, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Succeeded by
Preceded by
no predecessor
Principal Conductor and Music Director, Los Angeles Opera
Succeeded by
Preceded by Generalmusikdirektor, Hamburg State Opera
Succeeded by