Photo by Terrence McCarthy

Growing Up on the Classics
Nicola Luisotti, Music Director at the San Francisco Opera

When my brother and I were very young, I remember transcribing the parts from Selling England by the Pound, Foxtrot, The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, and Fragile by Foxtrot for the other guys in our rock group, Punto Morto Superiore, to play. Such beautiful memories! I have, as every musician I believe, a special relationship with Bach. I still remember, when I was just 12, playing the Toccata and Fugue in D minor in the church of Torre del Lago. I could barely touch the pedals with my feet! Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Various symphonies; Piano Concerto K. 595; Don Giovanni; various piano sonatas It's another classical giant with Mozart. My first meeting with him was his Symphony No. 40 when I was 11 years old. The minuet especially made a huge impression on me. The first sonata I played was the K. 279 in C major, when I was around ten years old.

For every musician, Beethoven is not just a composer but an institution. I started very early with his music and I have never stopped loving him. We can probably say that he is the music! Since my hands were big enough to play Listz's music when I was 12 years old, I started very early with his work. The first piece I played was La campanella. I won first prize at an Italian competition with the B minor Scherzo by Chopin, and I have a particular love for this album.

Rachmaninoff's wonderful Piano Concerto No. 2 was in my program for the final examination at the conservatory in Lucca, Italy, where I studied. I still have in my mind all the nuances of this music. I was very young when I heard this the First Symphony by Mahler, around 14, and I didn't understand him at that time. Then, fortunately over time I did, and I have conducted his music many times. When I was about ten years old, my father gave me a portable vinyl record player. I remember listening to the allegretto from the Third Symphony by Brahms so many times before going to sleep!

What to say about Puccini? He is my life and I never imagined when I was young that one day I could represent Puccini and his music so much. And then there is Verdi! Another friend of mine that has served me for many years and I will serve him for the rest of my life. Salome by Richard Strauss is for me, one of the hardest scores ever. It made such an impression on me when I was young, and I said to myself at that time: Nicola, one day you will conduct it. And so I did!

Nicola Luisotti has been music director of San Francisco Opera since September 2009 and holds the Caroline H. Hume Endowed Chair. In the current season he has already conducted Mefistofele and Falstaff; he leads La Traviata and Madama Butterfly this summer. In 2012, Luisotti was appointed music director of the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, and in the 2013–14 season he led Aida and Otello. Luisotti’s other engagements during the current season include Don Giovanni and Turandot with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and concerts in Naples and Turin.

Find out more about Vinyl: The Sound and Culture of Records, open through July 27, 2014.