San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New maestro takes the baton in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s National Symphony Orch-estra has come a long way. From humble beginnings in 1940 under the auspices of the Education Ministry, it has become one of Latin America’s premier orchestras, and it has now enlisted the services of world-renowned Daniel Nazareth to serve as artistic director and chief conductor.

The Mumbai, India, native and New York City resident was named to the post last month to succeed Japanese conductor Chosei Komatsu after seven seasons at the helm of the orchestra.

Nazareth, 62, has conducted many prestigious orchestras during his career, including the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, and has worked under such iconic figures as Leonard Bernstein, Colin Davis and Herbert von Karajan, whom he describes as his “idol.”

The maestro is no stranger to Costa Rica, having guest-conducted here twice before: the first time during the orchestra’s 2001 season, and again this past December in a benefit concert for the victims of Hurricane Tomás.

This weekend’s concerts – the symphony’s 2011 season opener – will feature Israeli guest violinist Erez Ofer. Works will include Georges Bizet’s “L’Arlésienne,” Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Violin Concerto No. 3 and Maurice Ravel’s “Alborada del Gracioso” and “Bolero.”

New this year on the five weekends Nazareth will conduct out of the symphony’s 12-concert season will be pre-event talks describing the music to be presented. Sessions will begin an hour before curtain time.

“I’d like to encourage our audience to participate, asking questions,” Nazareth says of the gatherings he has used successfully before other concerts. “I enjoy it immensely.”

Nazareth’s present lack of Spanish – a situation he says he hopes to rectify – will mean that this season’s Q-and-A will be conducted in English.

The veteran conductor sat down with The Tico Times last week at his office at the National Music Center in the northeastern San José suburb of Moravia. He spoke of his training and his plans for his time in Costa Rica. Excerpts:

TT: Your first degree focused on economics. What brought about such a change?

DN: Not only that, I’m a CPA (certified public accountant). It was something I was pushed into. The other Indian conductor Zubin Mehta was almost a medical doctor before he decided to conduct. Our parents, understandably, wanted us to have “respectable” careers. I grew up in a country where it was rather absurd for a youngster to think he wants to conduct an orchestra. There was no orchestra around. We didn’t even have gramophone records.

How does one get into the business of conducting?

I was very lucky growing up at the time I did. I don’t know where a young person today would go to study conducting. Things are very different than they were 30 years ago when I was a music student. I went to Vienna and was fortunate to get this very powerful, well-grounded and traditional education.

It’s not only that we were at music school. We were basically sitting in at the rehearsals of all these famous conductors who were coming in on a regular basis. For conducting, that’s where it happens. That’s where one learns the tricks of the trade in practice. This was particularly so with me and Herbert von Karajan. It was the greatest thing that could happen for someone interested in conducting.

What are your goals for your tenure here?

It’s a long-term vision to make something grow. It’s not about conducting one concert or conducting a second concert. Invite others to join us. Get support from the private sector, so that we can get out, go to New York possibly in 2013, go to other countries in Europe and perform as cultural ambassadors of Costa Rica. Take the success [Costa Rica has] achieved in ecology, sustainable tourism, in environmental protection, and try to replicate that success in music.

You’ve spoken of expanding the size of the orchestra.

The government has sanctioned 17 to 20 new positions. Auditions should begin soon for these new positions. We want a full-size symphony orchestra.

How do you put together a season of concerts?

It depends on the circumstances. My coming in happened very late. There was already a lot planned for this year. For the next season I have [guest soloists] already coming in. It’s basically concentrating on what’s best for our musicians here in terms of repertoire and what they’re doing, and looking at what the orchestra needs at the moment. That will change over time. And, of course, provide the audience with an interesting program.

When you go home and want to listen to music, what do you put on?

I’m a composer myself. I have many works that are half finished, half begun, which need to be sent off to the publisher. New thoughts are coming into my head, scribbled on pieces of paper, which have to be put to the computer. I don’t, per se, listen to music to relax. I have an apartment in New York, a loud and difficult city in the best of circumstances. In that apartment, I have a daughter who practices the violin and viola the whole day. I have a son who is a pianist and another son who is a cellist. It’s a madhouse. There’s not much else one can listen to.

If circumstances did permit it?

We’re putting together Bizet’s “Carmen” for the summer. So I went back to listening to the “Carmen” recording that Herbert von Karajan made. It depends on what I’m up to.

The 2011 Season

The National Symphony Orchestra performs the following 12 weekends this year: Mar. 18 and 20; Apr. 1 and 3; May 6 and 8; May 20 and 22; July 1 and 3; Aug. 26 and 28; Sept. 2 and 4; Sept. 16 and 18; Sept. 30 and Oct. 2; Oct. 28 and 30; Nov. 11 and 13; and Nov. 25 and 27.

Friday concerts begin at 8 p.m.; Sunday concerts begin at 10:30 a.m. All performances take place at the National Theater (Calle 3, Avenidas Central/2, 2221-5341, Ticket prices range from ¢3,000 to ¢15,000 ($6 to $30). For more information on each weekend’s programs, see the orchestra’s website at

The orchestra also will perform March 30 at 7 p.m. at one of several inaugural ceremonies for the National Stadium in La Sabana Park, on San José’s west side, and will cooperate with the National Opera Company in a production of Bizet’s “Carmen,” to be staged at the National Theater July 29 and 31 and Aug. 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11, all at 7 p.m.

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