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Costa Rica’s National Symphony splits with conductor Nazareth

September 2, 2011

Indian conductor Daniel Nazareth’s work with Costa Rica’s National Symphony Orchestra (OSN) has come to an abrupt end. The Culture Ministry announced last week that Nazareth will not be contracted as head conductor of the symphony for the 2012 season, nor will he lead any of the remaining concerts of the 2011 season. 

Iván Rodríguez, culture vice minister, told the daily La Nación that the decision to drop Nazareth was mainly owing to budget constraints, as the ministry could not meet Nazareth’s salary demands. But Rodríguez also cited conflict between Nazareth and members of the symphony and Culture Ministry as a reason for the conductor’s dismissal.

“Mr. Nazareth has taken a disrespectful and destructive attitude in the sense that he has verbally discredited the ministry and the country, our officials and artists, despite our efforts first to find him, then to bring him here, and finally to come up with his fees for the concerts he has offered,” Rodríguez told the daily.

“There needs to be chemistry between the musicians and the conductor,” Gabriel Goñi, a flutist with the OSN, told The Tico Times. “Nazareth’s manner of working caused problems with some of the musicians. He was tough and would yell. Many Costa Rican musicians are not accustomed to being treated like that.” 

Contacted by The Tico Times for comment, Nazareth, via email, replied only: “I came to Costa Rica with the vision of making a great orchestra out of the OSN. This dream soon turned into a nightmare that I want to forget as quickly as possible.”

Nazareth’s appointment as head conductor was announced with much fanfare in February (TT, Feb. 6). However, according to symphony insiders, the appointment was a controversial one. 

Ricardo Vargas, former director of the National Music Center, which oversees the OSN, told The Tico Times that the center’s board had begun an extensive search in October 2009 for a replacement for outgoing conductor Chosei Komatsu. According to a report given to The Tico Times by former board member Jeanina Umaña, the center invited select conductors to audition, including Italian maestro Giuseppe Mega, but not Nazareth. The search culminated in the board’s recommendation of Mega for the position of head conductor. 

“The availability of a conductor of Giuseppe Mega’s magnitude and his willingness to work in Costa Rica is an opportunity that will not happen again, and one that the OSN cannot afford to miss,” the report stated. “We [the board] believe that the appointment of Mega as head conductor should be made as soon as possible.” 

However, in February the Culture Ministry announced the appointment of Nazareth. According to Guillermo Madriz, current director of the National Music Center, many of the OSN heads had disagreed with the choice of Mega. 

“That’s why we decided to have new candidates, including Mega, Nazareth and others,” Madriz told The Tico Times in an email. “The selection committee saw a great opportunity with Nazareth due to his experience. The board and ministry agreed, and we hired Nazareth.”

Nazareth, 62, has both talent and experience. He began playing the violin at age 7 and has conducted several prominent European orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (TT, March 18).

The National Music Center must now once again begin the task of finding a new conductor. In the meantime, guest conductors will finish the 2011 season. This weekend’s concerts, featuring guest violinist Dylana Jenson of the U.S., will be led by Irwin Hoffman, who directed the symphony from 1987 to 2001 and took the group to the Far East, North America and Europe during his tenure. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at the National Theater in San José. For information and tickets, call the theater’s box office at 2221-5341.

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