Eugene Weekly : Music : 9.3.08

Behind Door #1
A Q&A with candidate Nir Kabaretti
by Suzi Steffen

Born in Israel, trained in Vienna and with experience in Madrid, Florence and many other great European cities, Santa Barbara Symphony Music Director Nir Kabaretti stands as one of three finalists in the Eugene Symphony’s search for a music director to replace Giancarlo Guerrero. This month, Guerrero’s three potential replacements spend almost a week apiece with the Eugene Symphony, each ending his stay with a free concert.

Each concert contains two pieces that are essentially the same (the first movement of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and one movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major), and Kabaretti, the first finalist to arrive in Eugene, completes his program with Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov.

As we will with each candidate, the EW sat down with Kabaretti and found out more about his past, his present and his hopes for the future.

Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Symphony

How did you get interested in music?

My father plays, so I was brought up watching him, and it was a natural part of my childhood. I began studying recorder with him when I was 5 years old, and after a few months I got to his level, so we decided to switch. I switched to the keyboard at 6 and then began studying piano. At age 15, I went to see concerts, and I was fascinated with the conductor, and I did for a while both. I played the violin for a few years and the trombone, and I sang, but the piano is my instrument. 

You have conducted in some of the greatest cities on the planet. What are some of your favorites?

I was fortunate to study in Vienna. If you want to go into this type of music, classical, Vienna was the center for many years, with Schubert, Beethoven, Brahams, Mozart, Mahler, Schoenberg — they all lived there. It was beautiful, and it was inspiring. You can study music wherever you want, but for me it was important to study it in the original place. 

So why Eugene?

I didn’t know so much about the city, but I heard it was a wonderful symphony. It has a very good reputation among musicians. There is certainly a professional challenge next to a personal desire to be more in the U.S. Of course when you apply, you never know how it’s going to end. I’m lucky to be sitting here now!

Your programming for Santa Barbara seems to pull from a variety of composers without relying on some of the Austro-German chestnuts.

Programming is the most important and challenging thing for the music director today. The time that people will go to a concert just because it is a concert, [that time] isn’t anymore. People have so much opportunity to spend a nice evening or an afternoon, so it really has to be something unique. I’m trying to balance myself between what the audience wants to hear, what the musicians want and need to play and what is my natural passion. It’s a puzzle.

Tell me about your selections for the Eugene program for Friday night.

The two pieces that were given, I needed to match that, and time [limits]. I went Russian. The program of Maestro Guerrero for this year is beautiful, and that was a problem for me because I couldn’t take any of his pieces. Thank God the Capriccio Espagnol and the Romeo and Juliet were not taken! These two pieces require something from the conductor that the orchestra needs. I think this maturity [requirement] will convince them of the way I see the music. The Classical piece, the Mozart, is really very tricky because I studied in Vienna. I have to convince the orchestra to play it in a certain style, and if I succeed with that, that will certainly make the orchestra understand what is my musical expectation. They are professional and flexible, so it depends more on me than on them.

A longer version of this interview will be posted the morning of Sept. 5 at and, also on the blog, we’ll keep up with rehearsals, interview musicians and audience members and evaluate the concerts. Free tickets for Friday’s concert and the two other conductor candidates’ concerts are available at the Hult Center box office or, for a small processing charge, at or 682-5000.