Chief Conductor of the Wiener Symphoniker
Fabio Luisi's first collaboration with the Wiener Symphoniker took place at the Bregenzer Festspiele in two opera productions, Giordano's Fedora (1993) and Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini (1994), which had nothing to do with the orchestra's core repertoire. Eight years would pass before Luisi conducted two momentous concerts in the Musikverein with Bruckner’s Second Symphony and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique as the major works on the programme.
It is rarely the case that 128 individuals, whose opinions of musical quality sometimes diverge greatly, unanimously offer the position of Chief Conductor to someone after such a brief introductory period. (The last time it happened was a half century ago with Wolfgang Sawallisch.) In the years since 2005, it has become abundantly clear that the decision was a wise one. Fabio Luisi was the first Chief Conductor to lead a lakeside stage production (Verdi’s Il trovatore) at the Bregenzer Festspiele after just taking up the post and to use his power of persuasion to realize the musicians’ long-cherished wish to play in the Festspielhaus: the hall offers far better conditions than the “concrete bathtub” beneath the lakeside stage, is free of inclement weather conditions and very conducive to musical quality. The three orchestral concerts that Luisi conducted at the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2006 featured Austrian music from Haydn to Mahler and Herbert Willi, a veritable calling card of representative selections from his widely diverse symphonic repertoire.
Luisi characterized the programmatic focus of his music directorship as an increased commitment to the rather neglected music of Schumann and Mendelssohn, as well as that of Franz Schmidt, whose Book with Seven Seals and entire symphonic oeuvre have been performed. Other concert events of note include the great choral works: Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Brahms’ German Requiem, Mendelssohn’s oratorios, Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, and Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. In the operatic sphere, Luisi has programmed Mozart’s La finta semplice and Magic Flute, as well as Cherubini’s Medee and Rossini’s Il turco in Italia with the orchestra at the Theater an der Wien. The April 2008 concert performance of Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecci with Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanča in the Konzerthaus struck a very special chord.
Leading tours naturally falls within the province of the Chief Conductor. Luisi’s have included the annual January concerts in Austrian provincial capitals, two tours each to Japan and Spain, and short, highly celebrated tours like the ones in February 2006 to Zagreb, Laibach and Budapest with Lang Lang as soloist in a Chopin piano concerto. November 2011 will see another highlight of the collaboration, an extended tour of the USA with concerts in New York and Chicago, among others. Fortunately, popular events such as open air concerts and the traditional Spring in Vienna concert are also mostly the job of the director.
Fabio Luisi was born in Genoa in 1959 and began to play piano at the tender age of four. As a child, he had acute asthma that limited his mobility, but allowed his musical talent to unfold early on. Luisi attended the Liceo Classico (C. Colombo), where he received his grammar school diploma in 1978, just a few weeks before his diploma exam in piano at the Niccoló Paganini Conservatory where he’d been studying as a private student of Memi Schiavina. He then continued his piano studies with Antonio Bacchelli and Aldo Ciccolini in Paris. Vocal coaching of operatic repertoire and lieder with the prominent soprano Leyla Gencer and his friendship with Rodolfo Celletti, who invited him to coach at the Festival della Valle d’Itria, fostered Luisi’s desire to pursue a conducting career.
After two years as a part-time lecturer in music theory and chamber music at the conservatory in La Spezia, he moved to Austria and began conducting studies under Milan Horvat at the Musikhochschule in Graz. During his years of university study, he also remained active as a piano soloist and lieder accompanist. Luisi received his conducting diploma with honours in 1983 and took up his first position as an opera coach and conductor at the Graz Opera that same year. In 1984, he made his conducting debut with Cimarosa’s Requiem in Martina Franca. Shortly thereafter, he debuted in Donizetti’s Viva la Mamma at the Graz Opera and Rossini’s Il turco in Italia at the Teatro dell’Opera Giocosa in Genoa.
Luisi left the Graz Opera to begin his international career in 1987. In 1989, he debuted in Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Le nozze di Figaro at the Staatsoper unter den Linden, and Tosca (which he calls his “fateful opera”) at the Wiener Staatsoper. Since making successful debuts at the aforementioned houses, he has been a regular guest conductor for repertory productions, revivals and new productions. After a successful Turandot in 1997, the Opéra Bastille in Paris invited him to lead a production of Norma the following year. He celebrated his American debut in 2000 with a new production of Rigoletto at Chicago’s Lyric Opera. In 2002, he debuted at the Salzburger Festspiele in a new production of Die Liebe der Danae, followed by a concertante performance of Die Ägyptische Helena that led to an ongoing collaboration with the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden.
Luisi’s path in the symphonic realm also began in the city where he studied conducting. The Grazer Symphonisches Orchester was re-established under his artistic direction in 1990. The second half of the 90s was marked by career building in terms of live concerts, radio recordings and CD projects, and three orchestras took part in these activities. In 1995, he became Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Tonkünstlerorchester Niederösterreich, whose Sunday afternoon concerts in the Musikverein also made him famous as a symphonic conductor in Vienna. Within five years, he conducted 55 of these concerts, plus 100 more in Lower Austrian cities. As Artistic Director of the Symphonieorchester des Mitteldeutschen Rundfunks in Leipzig – a shared position with Marcello Viotti and Manfred Honeck in 1996, becoming sole director as of 1999 – he was in charge of concerts and, above all, radio productions for broadcasting. As Artistic and Music Director of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva (1997-2002), he got the opportunity to make numerous CD recordings: Poulenc, Respighi, Mahler, Bruckner, Liszt, a complete recording of the symphonic works of Honegger, and two opera recordings of Verdi’s Jerusalem and Alzira. In February 2000, Fabio Luisi made his U.S. debut with the New York Philharmonic in a concert celebrated by press and public alike. Moreover, beginning in the 2007-2008 season, Luisi was appointed Musical Director of the Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden and Principal Conductor of the Sächsische Staatskapelle, following in the footsteps of such figures as Fritz Busch, Karl Böhm, Josef Keilberth, Rudolf Kempe and Giuseppe Sinopoli. Beginning in the 2012-2013 season, he will become Music Director of the Zurich Opera. Since September 2011, Luisi has also been Principal Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Fabio Luisi is a regular guest conductor with the world’s finest orchestras, festivals and opera houses, including the New York Philharmonic, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Orchestre National de Radio France, Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, Staatskapelle Berlin, Münchner Philharmoniker, Orchestre de Paris, Accademia de S. Cecilia di Roma, Concertgebouw, Wiener Staatsoper, Metropolitan Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Staatsoper unter den Linden, Hamburgische Staatsoper, Opera Bastille, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Teatro San Carlo, Teatro Felice, Teatro Comunale di Firenze, the Bregenzer Festspiele, the Lucerne and Gstaad Festivals. Yet this all of this is Only Halfway There, the title of his autobiography, chronicled by Walter Dobner and published in May 2008 by Böhlau. He is a recipient of the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, the Bruckner Ring of the Wiener Symphoniker and the Commendatore dell’Ordine della Stella della Solidarietà Italiana.