Mark Weinstein, the opera's general director, told the paper that Walker, who succeeds John Mauceri, "is not a household name now. But within the industry, his name is hot. We think we are grabbing onto a superstar. This has nothing to do with money. This is the best person for the company."
Walker is currently music director of the Washington Concert Opera in D.C., where he will continue to live.
Walker's three-year contract was approved by the board yesterday, according to the Post-Gazette. He will conduct at least two of the company's four annual productions, starting with The Magic Flute and Billy Budd next spring. He will also be responsible, alongside artistic director Christopher Hahn, for artistic and repertoire planning.
A respected Baroque conductor in Australia, Walker was praised for his performance of New York City Opera's new production of Handel's Semele last month. Walker was also praised for his interpretation of that work during the Sydney-based Pinchgut Opera's inaugural season in 2002. He will continue to serve as co-artistic director of Pinchgut, which he helped establish, according to the Post-Gazette.
In Pittsburgh, he directed the Pittsburgh Opera Center young artists in Monteverdi's The Return of Ulysses in 2004. He has also guest-conducted at the Minnesota Opera, among other companies.
Dale Johnson, artistic director of the Minnesota Opera, told the Post-Gazette that Walker "is a brilliant choice for Pittsburgh Opera. What is striking is the range of repertory he is comfortable with ... He has a sweet, youthful way of approaching music that is quite appealing. The orchestra caught his enthusiasm."
Walker was born in Sydney to a Hungarian mother and Australian father and began studying music at an early age. He studied piano, cello, singing and composing at the University of Sydney before focusing on conducting.
Upon graduation he led the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, was chorus master and conductor of the Welsh National Opera and founded two choirs (Contemporary Singers and Cantillation) and two orchestras (Sinfonia Australis and Orchestra of the Antipodes).