A triumphant return for Italian conductor Noseda as US orchestra receives rare La Scala ovation


MILAN — Conductor Gianandrea Noseda made a triumphant return to Teatro alla Scala in an informal role as cultural ambassador, leading the U.S. National Symphony Orchestra that he has made more “luminous” with his personal loan of centuries-old Italian-made instruments.

Noseda’s energetic performance Monday evening marked the emotional highlight of the NSO’s nine-city European tour, its first in nearly a decade. It was both a homecoming for the 59-year-old and the orchestra’s debut to the famously exacting La Scala audience.

The concert, which included an original composition by the Kennedy Center’s in-house composer Carlos Simon and Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho playing Beethoven, received a rare standing ovation.

“It is so meaningful to perform in the theater of the city where I studied at the conservatory and where I regularly attended concerts when I was a teenager and as a young man,’’ Noseda told a private reception that included his parents and brother.

From his student days living in the scrappy, industrial Milan suburb of Sesto San Giovanni and commuting to the Milan Conservatory, Noseda has risen to become one of the world’s most sought-after conductors.

He was recognized last year as the best conductor by the German international opera awards. Besides his role as NSO music director, he is also general music director of the Zurich Opera House and founding conductor of the Pan-Caucasian Youth Orchestra in Tsinandali, Georgia, created in the spirit of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra uniting Israeli and Palestinian musicians.

His past roles have included principal guest conductor at the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Russia’s Mariinsky Theatre, Italy’s RAI National Symphonic Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.

With two of his former host countries waging wars, Noseda sees even more need for cultural diplomacy, if only to offer hope to suffering populations.

“To be a cultural ambassador is truly important today because art, music, could and should help in bringing people together,’’ Noseda told The Associated Press. “I think the soft power of the music and of the art in general is particularly important nowadays.”

He recalled his days at the Mariinsky Theatre from 1997-2006 as a golden era when musicians from all over the former Soviet Union played together. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, Noseda has contact only with those who live abroad.

“We risk to go back to the idea of the 18th and 19th century where everybody was divided … (and) there were wars in every corner,’’ he said.

In a possible reaction to the global turmoil, Noseda has noted people filling concert halls more than usual in the last few months, with the NSO’s home venue, the Kennedy Center, often sold out.

The NSO’s European tour, which closes Wednesday in Hamburg, Germany, has been likewise playing to packed houses.

Noseda brought a fresh American voice to European audiences with the 2023 concerto for orchestra “Wake Up!” by Simon, who is part of a new movement of young Black composers. The piece is meant to grab the audience’s attention with its percussive drive.

Inspired by Nepali poet Rajendra Bhandari’s “Awake, Asleep,” Simon said he also wanted to spread the idea that “if you’re not aware of what’s happening, things will slowly deteriorate,’’ a message that he said is growing more urgent.

In his seven seasons at the NSO, Noseda has worked to infuse the orchestra with a more Italian style of playing in which he said “instruments imitate the vocal voices … even if they are absent.”

To that end, he has loaned musicians nine stringed instruments that he purchased — seven violins, one viola and one cello — by Italian master luthiers dating from 1686-1835. They are too costly for most orchestral musicians to afford.

The loans, which he did anonymously until last year, is Noseda’s way of “paying back” the classical music world in a way that he said “helps my music-making” by improving the sound of the entire orchestra.

“That motivates the musicians and gives them this kind of pride,” he said.

Musicians said playing the prized instruments has challenged them to search for new sounds.

“I am always struck by that beauty and that rich sound, velvety sound that he’s gotten us to produce,” said Marissa Regni, principal second violinist who has been playing a Santo Serafin made in Venice in 1725.

The mutual appreciation has deepened with the intensity of the European tour.

“I always respected my players,’’ Noseda said. “Now, I not only respect them, I love them, because I saw the discipline and the ethics of the music-making every single day.”



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