Cue the Orchestra

Italian conductor named new Dallas Symphony Orchestra music director

Italian conductor named new Dallas Symphony Orchestra music director

Fabio Luisi, Dallas Symphony Orchestra music director
Jaap is out, Fabio is in. Photo by Barbara Luisi Photography

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra has selected charismatic Italian conductor Fabio Luisi as its next music director. Luisi will serve as music director designate in the 2019-20 season and will assume the title of music director in the 2020-21 season, the DSO says, succeeding Jaap van Zweden, who ended his decade-long tenure in May.

DSO announced Luisi's appointment at an event June 4 on the Meyerson Symphony Center stage, which was streamed for the public via Facebook live. In a Q&A-style conversation that often had the audience chuckling, the affable conductor teased his plans with the orchestra — playing more from the American repertoire, more pieces by female composers, more opera works, more chorus collaboration — but did not reveal too much.

"People ask me for my visions. If you have visions, you should go to the doctor," he said to great laughter. "I have plans."

Luisi, best known to American audiences for his work as principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera and guest engagements with leading U.S. orchestras, currently holds three European positions: principal conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, general music director of the Zurich Opera, and music director of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. He has also held posts in Dresden, Leipzig, and Vienna. He earned a Grammy award in 2013 for Best Opera Recording for his recordings of Wagner’s Siegfried and Götterdämmerung with the MET Orchestra.

Luisi was born in Genoa, Italy and resides with his wife, celebrated photographer and violinist Barbara Luisi, in New York and Zurich. He told the audience at the Meyerson event that he became a musician because an illness prevented him from playing sports as a child, so his parents looked for something different for him to do. He started playing the piano.

Now, off the podium, he is something of a renaissance man whose passions include perfumery; his personal perfume line was featured on CBS Sunday Morning in 2015. (No word whether that fragrant tidbit swayed the DSO search committee.)

"This is a passion. I like to do it, and you are welcome to buy them if you want," he told the Meyerson audience. "I have a suspicion they will be available in the symphony store."

For the Monday event, he was wearing colorful striped socks, so one wonders (hopes) if he might become a Dallas sartorial standout. Vanity Fair has called Luisi a “remarkable man, who in person is modest, impeccably turned out, and immensely likeable.”

Luisi first appeared with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 2002, and returned on March 8, 2018. The Dallas Morning News called his “brilliant and elegantly detailed” performance of Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben highlighted “one of the most compelling guest conductor appearances in recent memory.”

After that performance, DSO musicians voted unanimously for him to be their next maestro, Alexander Kerr, DSO concertmaster, revealed at the event.

Here's how the DSO says his tenure will work: Luisi will return to Dallas next spring to lead a special concert. He will begin his official tenure as music director designate in the 2019-20 season and will take on the title of music director in the 2020-21 season, when he will conduct the DSO for seven weeks. Luisi will expand his concert week count in Dallas throughout the initial five-year contract period, which runs through 2023-24. He will conduct concerts in the Texas Instruments Classical Series, programs in the Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Family SOLUNA International Music & Arts Festival, and other performances throughout the North Texas community and beyond.

Each season he will conduct opera-in-concert performances with the DSO, beginning with Richard Strauss’s Salome in 2019-20 and continuing with Verdi’s Otello in 2020-21.

Under Luisi’s supervision, the DSO will launch a 10-year program to commission 20 new works for the orchestra from composers including Julia Wolfe and Steve Mackey. This commissioning project will yield at least 10 new works by female composers. The DSO will also begin planning for international tours during Luisi’s tenure.

Luisi also will focus on education and community engagement. His time in Dallas will include work outside of the Meyerson to spark inspiration and collaboration around the city and in underserved areas.

Luisi was chosen following a two-year search by a 13-member committee chaired by Morton H. Meyerson and comprised of musicians, board, staff and community leaders.

“The Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s future is incredibly bright as we begin a new period of artistic growth,” says Kim Noltemy, President & CEO of the Dallas Symphony Association, in a release. 

Luisi told the Meyerson audience he looks forward to exploring Dallas, but not necessarily by peddling around the neighbhorhood on one of the city's famous bike-share bikes. His wife rides bikes, said, but he is too scared. "If she drives, I feel safe," he said.

Most importantly, he said he has his Texas cowboy boots — but not yet a cowboy hat.