Dallas — Italian conductor Fabio Luisi is the new Dallas Symphony Orchestra Music Director, it was announced at a press conference at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center Monday morning. Luisi follows Jaap van Zweden, who led the DSO for 10 years and begins his post as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in the 2018-19 season.
Luisi, 59, built his reputation conducting opera. He is currently General Music Director of the Zurich Opera, Chief Conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Designate of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. He was Principal Conductor at the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 2011 to 2017, and has held conducting and music directing positions at Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden, the Saxon State Opera, MDR Symphony Orchestra Leipzig, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Tonkünstler Orchestra in Vienna.
He begins full-time with the DSO in the 2020-2021 season; and he will conduct five programs in the 2019-2020 season, part of which he program. He will also conduct one concert in the spring of 2019—the dates and program have not been announced yet, even though the DSO’s 2018-2019 season has.
“Fabio was one of the most sought-after conductors in the world,” said DSO Board Chairman Sanjiv Yajnik, “and we’re thrilled that Dallas has him.”
Most notable among Luisi’s plans for the Dallas Symphony is a 10-year project to commission 20 new works, at least half of them from women. This endeavor is underwritten by arts philanthropists Diane and Hal Brierley. He also wants to program more works by 20th and 21st century American composers, and given that he is known for opera, the DSO will perform one semi-staged opera every season, beginning with Strauss’ Salome.
“I think we have to explore the range of the repertoire, and that includes the repertoire that has not been explored in the past,” Luisi said in the morning announcement, before members of the press, board members and DSO musicians.
Luisi has conducted the DSO twice before: first in 2002 on Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony; and then in March 2018, as conductors have been “auditioning” since Van Zweden’s resignation was announced two years ago.
At the March visit, we learned on Monday, Luisi did two very Dallas things: He visited NorthPark Center, and bought a pair of cowboy boots there. He said he also explored the Dallas Arts District and found it vibrant, and the people of Dallas friendly.
His March concert was huge, featuring Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, which uses a greatly expanded instrumentation. He parred the orchestra down considerably for the program opener, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with pianist Lise de la Salle.
TheaterJones chief classical music and opera critic, Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, wrote of that concert:
“Luisi is an exciting conductor to watch; active but not excessive, expressive without much showmanship. The music is the show with him. Obviously, both pieces are in his DNA because he only rarely looked at the score. He has a distinguished résumé and was even considered to be the next music director of the Metropolitan Opera at one time. He is certainly the big name that donors lust after.”
Isaacs considered Luisi one of the top contenders for the job; his full review is here. Isaacs also reviewed Luisi conducting at the Met in 2016, on Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
Luisi was born in 1959 in Genoa, Italy, where his parents encouraged his musical participation. Given the choice between studying piano and violin, he chose the latter. “But it was not enough,” Luisi said. “I wanted to explore more repertoire, more sounds.”
Soon he started working with singers and his knowledge and love of opera grew.
DSO President and CEO Kim Noltemy noted that Luisi has become known for working with administrative staff, including marketing, more than most conductors do.
As for other plans with the DSO, Luisi said he wants to explore international touring, live streaming and embracing new technologies. He also expressed a desire to discuss with management the possibility of a composer-in-residence program. At a recent post, he presided over such ab initiative, with three composers-in-residence, two of which were women.
» Gregory Sullivan Isaacs contributed to this report
» You can see a five-minute video of Luisi's opening speech on TheaterJones' Facebook page