The National Symphony Orchestra this week announced the appointment of new music director Gianandrea Noseda, 51, an Italian known as both an orchestral and opera conductor. Mr. Noseda also directs Turin’s opera house, the Teatro Regio, holds guest posts with the Israel Philharmonic and, since 2002, has had a relationship with the Metropolitan Opera.
In a statement published by the NSO, Mr. Noseda said he “looks forward to a partnership that will yield great musical memories for us and our audiences.”
It was an open secret that no love was lost between NSO musicians and two of their most recent musical directors, Leonard Slatkin and now Christoph Eschenbach. The latter was regarded as distant and not communicative. But the orchestra’s management made a point of stressing the ensemble’s immediate enthusiastic reaction to Mr. Noseda’s creativity and excellent rapport with musicians when he conducted a concert at the Kennedy Center in November.
“It was clear that something compelling was happening on stage, and both our musicians and our audiences sensed it,” gushed NSO executive director Rita Shapiro. “[His] creative use of imagery, attention to detail in rehearsal, as well as deeply felt music-making elicited an immediate response from the orchestra.”
An orchestra member who preferred not to be named was more measured but still positive.
“I think Noseda was unanimous among the musicians, with really no one in second place as far as I know. People in the orchestra liked his efficiency in rehearsals, his enthusiasm, his stick technique, his experience,” the musician said. “He spoke beautifully, eloquently to the audience at the concert after the Paris attacks. From the heart, you know.”
Mr. Noseda’s appointment marks the culmination of an almost yearlong search by a committee that included five members of the orchestra and five board members, as well as key members of the administrative staff. NSO board member Roger Sant chaired the committee, which began by creating a profile of the ideal candidate based on input from the orchestra and management.
All the possible candidates had either recently conducted the NSO or were about to do so. Mr. Noseda was already known to the orchestra from an earlier engagement, but from all accounts the epiphanic moment was his appearance on the NSO podium on November 12.
That program, of Prokofiev’s “Violin Concerto,” Rachmaninoff’s “Second Symphony” and two elegies by the Italian 20th century composer Alfredo Casella, reflected two of Mr. Noseda’s major interests as a musician and an important phase in his career. The choice of Casella for the November program reflected Mr. Noseda’s enduring interest in the unappreciated Italian 20th century composers, a group that includes Respighi, Pizzetti, Zandonai and many others.
Mr. Noseda was born in 1964 in Sesto San Giovanni, a working class suburb of Milan and for years a communist stronghold. His turned to conducting relatively late, at 27, having initially trained as a pianist and tried his hand at composition. Curiously, he only made his debut with the Scala Opera House in his native Milan in 2012.
In 1997 Mr. Noseda was appointed the first ever foreign principal guest conductor of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, where the legendary Russian conductor — and Mariinsky director — Valery Gergiev was his mentor. Mr. Noseda held the position for a decade, which gave him his grounding in, and love for, Russian music.
Mr. Noseda’s first permanent orchestral appointment was as chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic (2002-11). His regular guest appearances are numerous, and he is artistic director of the Stresa Festival located on the shores of Lake Maggiore, where he lives with his wife Lucia, a former soprano. For a Placido Domingo benefit concert at Stresa last year, he swapped places with the supertenor: He sang while Mr. Domingo conducted the orchestra.
Mr. Domingo, incidentally, is his landlord in Manhattan, where the Nosedas rent an apartment within walking distance of the Met.
On the podium, Mr. Noseda tends to be ferociously athletic, flinging himself about with elaborate gestures, leaping one minute and then almost doubling up in a crouch the next. Offstage he’s soft-spoken and can converse in several languages.
His association with the Turin Opera, which began in 2007, developed into a turbulent drama in itself because of his running battle with opera administrator Walter Vergnano, whom he publicly called “indecisive, immobile, a prevaricator and responsible for stagnation in the opera house.” The two disagreed over almost everything, including Mr. Noseda’s ambitious plans for foreign tours by the opera orchestra. Mr. Vergnano considered such tours costly ventures that did little to increase the opera’s core audience in Turin, where it mattered.
In the summer of 2014, Mr. Noseda refused to renew his contract, and the Turin Opera went as far as picking a successor before the dispute was patched up by Turin’s mayor, Piero Fassino. Mr. Noseda then led the Turin Opera on a successful U.S. tour, gaining critical praise for its performance of Rossini’s monumental last opera, “William Tell.” Mr. Noseda personally helped raise the funds for the tour from leading Italian firms.
Throughout his struggle with management, Mr. Noseda had the orchestra’s full support, reflecting his longstanding reputation for establishing good relations with his musicians. For example, the BBC Philharmonic offered him a regular role with the orchestra after only one rehearsal.
Mr. Noseda will be the NSO’s seventh music director, in a list that also includes the Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer and Mstislav Rostropovich.
He said the NSO was the “orchestra of the [American] capital, so the orchestra is national not just in name.” The NSO, he believes, “has very high potential and a great desire to grow.”
“I’ve always picked organizations that have the desire to improve, to grow — those that are not content to sit on their laurels,” he said.
Signing up Mr. Noseda, who will conduct two subscription concerts in 2016-17 as music director-designate before taking over the following season, is considered something of a coup for Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter. Mr. Noseda brings along a record company (Chandos), with which he has ties based on several earlier recordings. Mr. Noseda has a reputation for being outgoing and social — unlike Mr. Eschenbach — which bodes well for impressing donors, as does his desire to tour.
Mr. Noseda arrives at the top of his game, but he bristled at being called a rising star in one American newspaper earlier this week.
“An orchestra director is mysteriously regarded as promising until he reaches the age of 55,” the Italian mused. “I’m 51, so I have four years to go. Then he suddenly becomes an ‘old’ conductor.”