Jader Bignamini was introduced as the 18th music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in January 2020, commencing with the 2020-2021 season. He kicked off his tenure as DSO Music Director with the launch of DSO Digital Concerts in September 2020, conducting works by Copland, Puccini, Tchaikovsky, and Saint-Georges. His infectious passion and artistic excellence set the tone for the season ahead, creating extraordinary music and establishing a close relationship with the orchestra. A jazz aficionado, he has immersed himself in Detroit’s rich jazz culture and the influences of American music.
In December, Jader returned to Detroit to lead a triumphant performance of Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst, Strauss’s Concerto for Oboe and Small Orchestra, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”. He will return in May 2021 to conduct four programs including performances with violinist Midori and pianist Orli Shaham.
A native of Crema, Italy, Jader studied at the Piacenza Music Conservatory and began his career as a musician (clarinet) with Orchestra Sinfonica La Verdi in Milan, later serving as the group’s resident conductor. Captivated by the operatic arias of legends like Mahler and Tchaikovsky, Jader explored their complexity and power, puzzling out the role that each instrument played in creating a larger-than-life sound. When he conducted his first professional concert at the age of 28, it didn’t feel like a departure, but an arrival.
In the years since, Jader has conducted some of the world’s most acclaimed orchestras and opera companies in venues across the globe including working with Riccardo Chailly on concerts of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony in 2013 and his concert debut at La Scala in 2015 for the opening season of La Verdi Orchestra. Recent highlights include debuts with the Houston, Dallas, and Minnesota symphonies; Osaka Philharmonic and Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo; with the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, and Dutch National Opera (Madama Butterfly); Bayerische Staatsoper (La Traviata); I Puritani in Montpellier for the Festival of Radio France; Traviata in Tokyo directed by Sofia Coppola; return engagements with Oper Frankfurt (La forza del destino) and Santa Fe Opera (La Bohème); Manon Lescaut at the Bolshoi; Traviata, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot at Arena of Verona; Il Trovatoreand Aida at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera; Madama Butterfly, I Puritani, and Manon Lescaut at Teatro Massimo in Palermo; Simon Boccanegra and La Forza del Destino at the Verdi Festival in Parma; Ciro in Babilonia at Rossini Opera Festival and La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, and Elisir d’amore at La Fenice in Venice.
When Jader leads an orchestra in symphonic repertoire, he conducts without a score, preferring to make direct eye contact with the musicians. He conducts from the heart, forging a profound connection with his musicians that shines through both onstage and off. He both embodies and exudes the excellence and enthusiasm that has long distinguished the DSO’s artistry.
"America’s Music Director," as praised by the Los Angeles Times, Leonard Slatkin is a tireless advocate of American symphonic music and showing off the next generation of great composers. He led the DSO during a time of great innovation – including, for example, the Live from Orchestra Hall webcast series and commitment to community-minded accessibility.
Neeme Järvi led the DSO as it returned to Orchestra Hall and as Orchestra Hall expanded to welcome the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center. He also doubled concert subscriptions, led the orchestra on tour, recorded highly praised CDs, and earned countless fans that still flock to his occasional Motor City return.
Günther Herbig embraced Dorati’s touring ethos and brought the DSO up and down the east coast and overseas to Europe. He also resumed national radio broadcasts and made acclaimed recordings with the symphony for RCA.
Antal Dorati placed a renewed emphasis on recording, and under his baton the DSO earned its first Grand Prix du Disque for an album of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Dorati also took the DSO on its first European tour in 1979, introducing the symphony to new audiences and earning rave reviews.
The young, glamorous Aldo Ceccato mostly followed Ehrling’s lead during his brief but exciting tenure. He introduced more than 45 works into the DSO repertoire but unfortunately never made any recordings with the symphony.
The Swede Sixten Ehrling was given the unenviable task of following in Paul Paray’s footsteps. His response was to pack the schedule and expand the repertoire; over ten years, Ehrling conducted 722 concerts (the most of any DSO music director) and 664 individual works (including 24 world premieres).
A beloved music director, the Frenchman Paul Paray imbued the DSO with a touch of Gallic style. Notably, he conducted the orchestra on a legendary series of recordings for Mercury that are now undisputed classics. He also resumed national radio broadcasts and ushered the orchestra into a new home: Ford Auditorium, on the Detroit riverfront.
A former assistant of the Vienna State Opera, Karl Krueger led the DSO during its years of residency at Music Hall on Madison Street. While an excellent conductor, he and his main supporters bickered with some of the symphony’s “old guard” patrons, and the DSO disbanded once again when Kreuger quit in 1949.
As Gabrilowitsch’s associate conductor, Victor Kolar knew the orchestra well when he took the podium in 1940. He implemented forward-thinking new ideas for the DSO, including free concerts and radio broadcasts specially crafted for Michigan schoolchildren. However, the symphony disbanded in 1942 upon the United States’ entrance into World War II.
Franco Ghlone was a colorful Italian conductor with a background in opera. He sometimes struggled to lead the DSO in an era characterized by Gabrilowitsch’s death and broad financial concerns, and he resigned in 1940.
The early prominence of the DSO was jumpstarted by the invitation of Ossip Gabrilowitsch to serve as music director. An acclaimed musician with powerful connections, Gabrilowitsch agreed to take the job on the condition that the symphony build a concert hall. Under Gabrilowitsch’s tenure and on the stage of Orchestra Hall, the DSO became one of the world’s finest.
The reconstituted DSO formed in 1914, and Weston Gales was invited to serve as music director by society woman and DSO supporter Frances Sibley. Gales and the DSO found themselves in the right place at the right time, as Detroit was just beginning its surge as the industrial and automotive capital of the United States.
Hugo Kalsow took over as the DSO’s first long-term music director in 1900, when he was just 22 years old and fresh off his formal studies at the Dresden Conservatory in Germany. He was the son of the DSO’s first manager, Fritz Kalsow, and by all accounts a fine conductor; however, the nascent and shaky symphony would disband for the first time in 1910.
In its early years, the DSO was led by several conductors, often for relatively short periods of time. These include Rudolph Speil (1887-1894), Wilhelm Yunck (1894-1895), Johann H. Beck (1895-1896), and G. Arthur Depew (1896-1899).