Marking their first U.S. performances together, this spring Grammy and ECHO Klassik Award-winning conductor Fabio Luisi tours five California cities with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra (DNSO), where he launched his tenure as Principal Conductor this season. At concerts in Santa Barbara (March 28), Palm Desert (March 29), San Diego (March 30), Costa Mesa (March 31), and San Francisco (April 2 & 3), he and the orchestra will perform Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder with star soprano Deborah Voigt, whom Luisi conducted as Brünnhilde in Robert LePage’s 2011 “Ring” cycle at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The music of Danish composer Carl Nielsen, long a DNSO staple, will also be featured: the Helios Overture, and, exclusively in San Francisco, the Symphony No. 6. At the first four concerts, the program will be completed by the spring-infused First Symphony by Mahler, whose Ninth Symphony Luisi conducted at the DNSO’s season-opening concerts last fall; in San Francisco, he will instead lead music by Beethoven – the “Eroica” Symphony and Violin Concerto, with Arabella Steinbacher as soloist – and Richard Strauss. Shortly after the tour, Luisi returns to California to conduct the San Francisco Symphony (April 27–29) before bringing his U.S. spring season to a close on the East Coast, where he looks forward to leading The Orchestra Now (TŌN) at Bard College (May 28).
The remarkable affection between Fabio Luisi and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra was already apparent when a video showing the orchestra’s reaction to his appointment was released online. As Luisi explains in another video, in which he discusses his relationship with the orchestra, “From the beginning, there has been an extraordinary artistic chemistry between the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and myself. I feel that we have a very deep mutual understanding and that we trust each other completely.”
Known for its special democratic structure and distinctive Nordic sound, the DNSO would seem to have found an ideal partner in Luisi, who is enjoying his new position with the Danish orchestra as well as Scandinavian culture and lifestyle in general. The conductor also has a deep and abiding affection for the music of Carl Nielsen, Denmark’s national composer. As he explains in this video: “Nielsen and I are like young lovers. I am exploring Nielsen’s personality through his music, and finding him an incredibly interesting, original and complex composer. He has a very personal musical language which is both strange, full of depth and yet so much fun. I am happy to explore this wonderful composer with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and I am very excited to present his music to the Nielsen connoisseurs in the San Francisco audience.”
Luisi’s reference to “Nielsen connoisseurs” recalls the landmark recordings of the composer’s symphonies made by the San Francisco Symphony and its then-music director, Herbert Blomstedt, another long-time admirer and enthusiastic advocate of Nielsen’s music. Similarly, Luisi and the orchestra garnered raves after their own accounts of the Danish composer’s Second (“The Four Temperaments”) Symphony at the BBC Proms last summer, when the London Evening Standard reported that, “in Luisi’s hands, [it] was a riot of invention.”
Throughout his career, Luisi has also been deeply involved with the music of Gustav Mahler, which he has performed with many different orchestras. He and the DNSO will continue to explore it together with tour performances of the First Symphony. Says Luisi, “It is both easy and difficult to describe Mahler. It is easy because Mahler is everything you can imagine in life: sorrow, joy, enthusiasm, sadness, reflecting about yourself, being depressed about yourself, being overwhelmed about nature, the world and music and everything around you in life. There is nothing left out. But it’s also difficult to describe. There is so much, and you have to find the right way to understand it, and this subtlety is not so easy to get.”
Luisi returns to the Bay Area to lead the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in a pairing of Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Richard Strauss’s rarely performed Aus Italien. Inspired by the composer’s travels in Italy, this early work is cast in four movements, reminiscent of a symphony, but is often described as an early forerunner of the orchestral tone poem, a genre that Strauss would go on to define and ultimately perfect. For the Schumann, Luisi reunites with Russian pianist Igor Levit, who also partnered with the conductor when Luisi recently returned to lead the London Symphony Orchestra for the first time since his “powerful and convincing” (The Guardian) 2014 debut. The upcoming engagement marks Luisi’s first return to the San Francisco Symphony since 2008, when he lead Franz Schmidt’s Symphony No. 4 and another Strauss work, Don Juan, in what the San Francisco Chronicle called an “invigorating and fiercely dramatic debut.” Luisi’s other previous Bay Area performances were in 2003 with San Francisco Opera, where he conducted Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.
New York’s Hudson Valley is the setting for the final concert of the conductor’s U.S. spring season. There he will lead The Orchestra Now (TŌN), Bard College’s unique graduate training orchestra, in a program pairing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (with David Chan, concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) and Brahms’s Symphony No. 4. Launched in 2015, TŌN is designed to prepare musicians for the challenges facing the modern symphony orchestra.