After stepping down in 2016 as artistic director of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Marek Janowski thought he was done with this sort of assignment. After all, he was 77 at the time and had already enjoyed an array of top positions with such ensembles as the Philharmonic Orchestra of Radio France and Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne.
But beginning in the fall of 2019, Janowski, who will make his subscription debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on May 31 and June 1-3, will take over as chief conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic, a counterpart of the famed Staatskapelle Dresden. “I think that will be my last music directorship,” he said, “because when I take this orchestra, I will be already 80 years old.”
The new post marks a return to Dresden. From 2001 through 2004, the Polish-born, German-reared Janowski served as chief conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic but he stepped down because of the ensemble’s inadequate venue. “I told the orchestra if they would ever get a new concert hall, I would reconsider coming back,” he said. This season, the ensemble has begun performing in a new 1,760-seat concert hall that was constructed inside Dresden’s rebuilt Kulturpalast. Janowski describes the new hall as “magnificent.” Indeed, he notes that some American symphony orchestras are set to perform there as part of future European tours. Because he likes the orchestra and he is so thrilled with hall, he agreed to return as chief conductor.
Janowski typically spends one or two weeks a year in the United States, sometimes appearing with the San Francisco Symphony, with which he has a close relationship, or the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he conducted the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s first production of Lohengrin and returned there for subsequent productions in 1981 and 1996-97. During the two earlier productions, he recalls attending some CSO concerts with then-music director Georg Solti on the podium.
Although Janowski led two sets of CSO concerts in 1982 and 1991 at the Ravinia Festival, this will be his first time with the ensemble at Orchestra Hall. “Of course, the reputation of the orchestra is fabulous, and it’s a great pleasure for me to go there and conduct them in their own home.”
Well-known for his conducting of not just Wagner but Austro-Germanic repertoire in general, the maestro will lead a program that begins with Weber’s Overture to Euryanthe and continues with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4. It culminates with orchestral excerpts from two of Wagner’s most famed operas: the Overture and Venusberg Music from Tannhäuser and Preludes to Act 1 and 3 from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
“When you talk about Wagner,” Janowski said, “you always think that immediately there should be the participation of human voices, but these bits are real, normal orchestral music leading into the vocal scenes of these two operas.”