CALLED IT: Kent Nagano Re-Ups at Montréal Symphony Orchestra

By James Inverne on Nov 13, 2013 11:41 PM EST

Press releases about artists (and I've written quite a few of them myself) aren't known for being modest. That's not the point of them and although people soon find you out if you're not honest in the writing, you're obviously going to highlight the most complimentary things to the artist in question. So no surprise that the Montreal Symphony Orchestra's announcement of music director Kent Nagano's contact renewal says very early on, "Since its association with Maestro Nagano, the OSM [Orchestre symphonique de Montréal] has consolidated its standing among leading North American orchestras..."

In this case, though, there's little doubt about the release's honesty. It's pretty well bang on.

Nagano's return to critical favour and the OSM's strengthening are inextricably entwined. It happened organically, without aggressive marketing (or none that I noticed), but palpably. California-born Nagano has had a fascinating journey. He first burst upon the scene with a series of astonishingly fine recordings, many of modern or modernish (less precise cousin to modernist) or unusual repertoire. Music by Frank Zappa of all people, by Busoni, Offenbach (OK he's hardly rare), Canteloube, the French Salomé, Weill. Above all, perhaps, there was his brilliantly sharp Rake's Progress. For a while there, in the nineties, he could do no wrong.

The inevitable critical bite-back occurred in the later '90s when he was music director of the Hallé in Manchester. There was a distinct cooling of the fever of adulation that has accompanied the previous decade or so.

Perhaps what has happened since is the healthiest of all balances. After well-received tenures at the DSO Berlin and Los Angeles Opera he went to Montreal. There the success was gradual, he and the orchestra were on a clear path and suddenly, in 2010, Nagano was on no fewer than four recordings nominated for Gramophone Awards in the same year (not all with the OSM, however).

There are other fine Canadian orchestras, one or two as fine as the OSM. But Nagano has succeeded in getting the OSM talked about, in embedding it within its community and not least distinguishing it in recordings. There is a definite buzz about the orchestra these days, and correspondingly there is again a real buzz around Nagano. And, you know, that's rather as it should be. It's always been a rather special orchestra. He's always been a rather special conductor.

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TagsOSM, Montreal Symphony, Kent Nagano, Strauss, Stravinsky, Offenbach, Gramophone Awards

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