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Star Munich opera director Nagano resigns amid controversy

Published: 06 Jul 2010 16:01 GMT+02:00

The California-born artist has led the Bayerische Staatsoper, in addition to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, since September 2006. But after his contract runs out in 2013, Nagano will leave Munich, he said in a statement.

“Because of cultural policy developments in the last months in Munich – at the State Theater at Gärtnerplatz and at the Munich Philharmonic – and their results, I have decided not to be available for a contract extension as Music Director of the Bavarian State Opera after the summer of 2013,” he said.

Speculation about the famous conductor’s future began several weeks ago, when rumours surfaced that the city’s culture and education minister Wolfgang Heubisch was against keeping the 58-year-old at the opera.

Nagano said he had revealed his decision to prevent “speculation and friction” that would “damage all those involved and be unjust to the noble, singular tradition of the Bavarian State Opera, and the reputation of Munich and its residents.”

The conductor also expressed that he had enjoyed his time in Munich and was thankful for his colleagues who had allowed him to “grow as an artist.”

A spokesperson for the opera declined to comment on the statement, but politicians criticised the city’s cultural policy makers for driving the popular conductor away.

“What Nagano writes is a critique on cultural politic unlike any other I’ve heard from a creative artist,“ Social Democratic state expert on cultural policy Isabell Zacharias said, accusing Heubisch, a Free Democrat, of failing his duties.

Nagano is the third cultural heavyweight to resign from a cultural leadership position in just a few months. Director of the Haus der Kunst art museum Chris Dercon and artistic director of the State Theatre at Gärtnerplatz Ulrich Peters, also recently stepped down.

The exodus was a sign Heubisch had not worked to ensure that "these stars stay here,“ Zacharias said.

Heubisch accepted Nagano’s decision with “great respect and regret.”

It remains unclear who may replace Nagano.

According to Nagano's agency, he is renowned for his musical interpretations and has become a "prominent figure in a new wave of artistic thinking in Germany," known for confrontational programming.

DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

19:54 July 6, 2010 by Schweigsame
Nagano is not a truly first-rate conductor, and his loss it not a big deal. Far, far more damning to Munich's artistic scene was the loss of Christian Thielemann who is going to Dresden.

Still, Thielemann aside, it's been a while since there was a truly great conductor tied to Munich, and it shows in the level of music making.
08:22 July 7, 2010 by TitusC
It is so rare that forward thinking interpreters like Nagano are not regarded as "truly first rate" as they don't stick to the old and tiring warhorse repertoire while people like Christian Thielemann who do are regarded as such.

A very sad case of cultural boulevard press mentality. "Klassikstar!"
09:53 July 7, 2010 by icemonkey
Bavaria isn't exactly noted for it's being on the cutting edge of the musical scene...
03:43 July 9, 2010 by kamioner
Quite honestly I don't think Nagano cared enough to fight for his job in Munich. His kids will get a better education in the States or in Montreal, his artistic ideal will be respected and he won't have to work with 2nd rate administration. Munich has a reputation for involving musically uneducated leaders, not only in politics, but also the arts. It looks like Stuttgart and Dresden will be the leaders and it's such a pity because there was a time when Munich was considered the top in Germany and the world. Boo.
09:14 July 9, 2010 by halocme
This is not anything new in Germany or Europe. The top-rated artist's future is heavily influenced by politicians in charge. This is because the nation or the state keeps these artistic institutions. When Wolfgang Sawallisch became Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra after 21+ years of GMD of the Bavaria State opera, he was perplexed by the fact that getting private sector money was an important part of the MD's job. In Nagano's case, I personally hope he will find a way to extend his contract, so that the tradition further enriches his artistry. It would be much better if the culture and education minister were replaced, rather than Nagano, because the artistic achievement of the conductor and ensemble should grow with a time scale of ten years.
17:45 July 9, 2010 by gloomzal
Nagano is no Furtwängler or Mahler, but he is not that bad either, and his departure is a loss for Munich for sure. Giving him another 5 or 10 years would have probably yielded good results.

What Nagano gave Munich, and people like Thielemann, Maazel, Jansons, Sawallisch never did was musical innovation and a willingness to conduct new pieces. Thielemann is the worst in this sense. Farewell to him I say.

Just look at Berlin and what they are doing with ticket sales and energy of the Phil. We should remember that an 'essential' part of being great- Strauss, Mahler, Kubelik, Furtwängler was to conduct or compose new music for audiences. The cannon must be protected by growing.
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