Kent Nagano: Book “10 Lessons of My Life” – Encounters That Count

Kent Nagano is currently General Music Director of the Hamburg State Opera and Chief Conductor of the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra. (photo alliance / dpa / Christian Charisius)

Conductor Kent Nagano was driven by the importance of learning long before the buzzword “education” caught on in the music business. Wherever he worked, in addition to his executive duties, he tried to pass on some of his experiences to the next generation and the generation after.

Since 2015, he has been the general music director and chief conductor of the Hamburg State Opera. Now, shortly before his 70th birthday on November 22, his second book has been published, written with journalist Inge Kloepfer. “10 Lessons From My Life Subtitled “What Really Matters”.

Landmarks through encounters

The array of people who have left their mark on Nagano’s life is colorful. There are conductors, as well as musicians from the classical and pop genres. This book, Nagano’s second, is about life experiences that cannot be learned from books or scores, but, as Nagano points out, only from humans. It’s about terms like truthfulness, integrity or humility, about shaping the heart.

Kent Nagano, Inge Kloepfer
“10 lessons of my life. What really counts”
Berlin publishing house 2021
208 pages, 22 euros

The people from whom Nagano has learned throughout his life are presented in ten loving portraits. The book also offers entertaining insights into the music business, into artistic issues, into the ambivalent relationship between art and money, as well as into the scientific theories of Nobel Prize winner Donald Arthur Glaser.

a voice for Schoenberg

During a plane trip, for example, he met the voice of pop singer Björk. It sounded like an animated music video flickering on a screen. A little black-haired cartoon girl danced between excavators and tractors. The naturalness of that voice immediately captivated Nagano. And he immediately knew that he was looking for a specific work by Arnold Schoenberg, for the singing of the melodrama “Pierrot Lunaire”, which fluctuated back and forth between all genres.

In 1996 he invited Björk to the Verbier Festival. From her he learned that perfection is not everything, not even in the closed world of classical music. Much more important is the question of whether an artist really has something to say to the public with his interpretation.

Life ain’t easy at the bottom

But some encounters were also painful. He learned humility from conductor and founder of the Boston Opera Company Sarah Caldwell. Caldwell was an obsessive workaholic powerwoman who regularly called her then 25-year-old assistant Nagano at 2:30 AM and asked him to come to the opera house immediately. to solve any artistic problem.

In such a nighttime action, Nagano made a serious mistake. He should have rewritten orchestral parts and assigned the wrong key to the trumpets. The next morning there were full dissonances from the orchestra pit. In the beginning there was a lot of laughter. Then Sarah Caldwell fired him on the spot. Shock for Nagano until 2:30 the next morning. Because then she called, as always, and asked him to come straight to the opera.

learn from friends

Nagano learned from Frank Zappa that as a real artist you have to be uncompromising and not play tactical games. Leonard Bernstein taught him that questions are more important than answers. Pierre Boulez conveyed to him what composers dream of and nurtured his interest in new music. Other chapters are devoted to the longtime director of the Opéra de Lyon Jean-Pierre Brossmann and the pianist Alfred Brendel.

Nagano’s descriptions express a deep respect for the people who shaped him, that mixture of truth-finding and a sense of responsibility that is typical of him. He was certainly driven by a desire to give eager readers something that really matters.

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