Of the 21 guest conductors leading the New York Philharmonic this season, one third are making their Philharmonic debuts. Some are relative newcomers; others are well established. They lead major musical institutions around the world. All bring diverse backgrounds and distinctive interpretations to varied programs throughout the Orchestra's 162nd season.
This month's first debut conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, leads a three-concert all-Russian program that features works by Stravinsky and Prokofiev, as well as the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 with cellist Truls Mørk (November 19-21). Like many of his colleagues, Mr. Noseda, a Milan native, holds multiple appointments, including principal guest conductor of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and principal conductor of both the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester and the Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, a position he assumed in September.
"I'm very much looking forward to conducting the Philharmonic, an orchestra rich with colors, brilliant in its production of sonority, and so responsive," says Mr. Noseda. "Given my experience in opera, I try to approach symphonic repertoire from an operatic perspective: expressive rubato, flexibility of tempo, emphasis on the vocal qualities of instruments."
November also marks the subscription series debut of Roberto Minczuk, the Philharmonic's Associate Conductor, on the 22nd and 25th in concerts supported by the Kurt Masur Fund for the Philharmonic, established to give opportunities to emerging conductors. The Brazil native began his musical career as a French-horn player, inspired by his musician father. By age 13 Mr. Minczuk was principal horn of the São Paulo Symphony. After studying at Juilliard, he was appointed to play in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, but conducting called: "My dad told me when I was a kid that one day I had to conduct; he noticed that I was always fascinated with conducting."
At the Philharmonic he works closely with Music Director Lorin Maazel. "I feel privileged to be associated with the Philharmonic and to have the opportunity to talk with Maazel about music and learn from him," he says. "I think he is one of the greatest conductors in history."
For Osmo Vänskä, whose debut on the Philharmonic podium took place last month, the Philharmonic connection was a bit more remote but no less significant:as an adolescent growing up in Finland, Mr. Vänskä owned a recording of the Brahms Second Symphony performed by the Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein. Hearing it set his course in life: "From that moment, I wanted to be a conductor and I did so, after a fashion, in front of the record player with a pencil in my hand. I felt a real connection with the Philharmonic."
For Antonio Pappano, who bows early next year February 19-21 and 24), his appearances at Avery Fisher Hall will mark a homecoming of sorts. Although born in London to Italian parents, and currently music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Mr. Pappano was raised in Connecticut, and began his professional career at the New York City Opera. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1997. His first performances with the Philharmonic will feature the Shostakovich Tenth Symphony and Katia and Marielle Labèque in the Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos. Mr. Pappano appears during this season's Diamond American Conductor Debut Week, which has previously introduced Philharmonic audiences to conductors David Robertson (2000-01), Alan Gilbert (2001-02), and Robert Spano (2002-03).
Auspicious debuts have a long and illustrious history at the Philharmonic. Conductors who have appeared before Philharmonic audiences include Bruno Walter (1923 debut), Wilhelm Furtwängler (1925), Arturo Toscanini (1926), Leonard Bernstein (1943), Pierre Boulez (1969), and Erich Leinsdorf (1972). More than a few eminent composers have guest-conducted the orchestra: Igor Stravinsky made his debut in 1925 conducting his own works and Maurice Ravel bowed in 1928, to name just two.
Time will tell which of this season's debut conductors will join that exalted company. No doubt those in the audience this season will one day be able to boast, "I heard him when. . ."
Mario Mercado serves as research editor of Travel and Leisure magazine and is the author of The Evolution of Mozart's Pianistic Style.