Kent Nagano, an internationally acclaimed American conductor, leads the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra through several concert programs in the coming week. Nagano with the IPO, the Gary Bertini Israeli Choir, the Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir and international solo singers, will all be going down to the Dead Sea to participate in the larger than life Israel Opera Festival at Masada Sunday playing Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony.

Later next week, Nagano will be conducting a different program of piano concerti performed by Daniil Trifonov, as well as symphonic pieces by Mahler, Bizet, Berlioz and Ducas.

On the eve of his Israeli tour, the conductor, currently working as the musical director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal and the Bavarian State Opera, shared with us his ideas about the place and the role of classical music in the world today, shared with us some of his ideas about the place and the role of classical music in the world of today.

“We live in a very technological and rapidly changing world, and perhaps sources that help us identify with traditions and connect with our cultural values are very helpful. And if this is the case, one can argue that classical music today is more important than it has ever been. So both in Quebec and in Germany the conservatories and music departments of universities are full of exceptionally gifted students. So we can hope that the next generations will carry the wonderful heritage of classical music into the future.”

Nagano, a third generation American of Japanese descent, says that his roots are not so easy to define. Born into the “melting pot” of American culture to parents that could hardly speak Japanese, he got his musical education from teachers who escaped to the US from European wars.

Yet arriving for the first time at Japan, as an assistant to conductor Seiji Ozawa, Nagano was astonished to “reveal various social manners that felt strangely familiar, as if I lived with them in a former life – and for this I have no explanation.”

Speaking of the problems confronted nowadays by music directors of major classical institutions, Nagano points at budgetary issues, which are felt globally.

“On the positive side,” he continues, “I see a real explosion of young talent, coming to orchestras and opera stages. They are well-trained versatile young artists, something we did not see 50 years ago. As someone who has been involved not only in performance of the standard repertoire, but somehow trying to find a way to the repertoire of the future, I’ve met many very talented composers, which seem (I say seem because one can’t be sure about the future) to be able to tie the heritage of the 17th-20th centuries towards the language of the 21th century.”

“I suppose that budgetary stress is at most a superficial problem compared to the true challenges of musicians. There are deeper problems we as performing artists need to deal with, and the most important one is that we need to search again and again for the profound meaning of the music. Music is a universal language, and it continues to be relevant over time. But this is only possible if every generation redefines for themselves what the essential quality of the music is. It is up to us to feel anew the pertinence of this form of human expression and if we don’t do it, the next generation will not be able to follow us, they will not be able to move the tradition forward. Maybe this is the major challenge musicians have nowadays.

“Many music institutions complain that there are not enough young people in the audience. I say that this is not the fault of the young people – it means that we probably don’t make a strong enough argument. We are confronting this problem very actively, both in Quebec and in Munich, and are nearly going the opposite way to where the trend in the US is going – to lower the level in order to make classical music accessible to wider audiences. Yet in Quebec we have been pushing the level even higher, making it more challenging both intellectually and emotionally. And the young audience have responded positively. Because as every performing artists knows – and I believe everybody knows – if you are not telling the truth, not being authentic, nobody is going to believe you. But again, there are many ways to achieve the same goal – I do not pretend to possess the ultimate truth, I am just an artist.”

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