Nathalie Stutzmann, the French-born contralto turned conductor, will succeed Robert Spano as music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra starting with the 2022-23 season and become the second woman to lead a major American orchestra.
The 56-year-old agreed to a four-year contract, the orchestra announced Wednesday, and she plans to spend 10 weeks annually in Atlanta starting in 2022-23.
Marin Alsop was the first woman to head a major American orchestra as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra from 2007-21.
Spano spent 20 years in Atlanta and left after the 2020-21 season. He will become music director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in 2022-23.
Stutzmann, who lives in Geneva, will become the ASO’s fifth music director after Henry Sopkin, Robert Shaw, Yoel Levi and Spano. She debuted with the orchestra on Dec. 2, 2020, in a program of Lauren Bernofsky’s Passacaglia for Brass Ensemble, Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll” and Beethoven’s First Symphony. She returned for a second program last February.
“You feel if the connection works,” she said. “You feel it the work you are doing if what the musicians are expecting. And as a conductor you feel if the orchestra is in connection with you. And I must say it was very clear that the connection was working very well from the first time I came. And I really liked it because, well, I’m working intensely and my rehearsal work is very demanding and some orchestras are not so interested in this kind of rehearsal. But here they love to work hard.”
Stutzmann was a singer before concentrating on the podium.
“I grew up as a musician. I was a pianist, I was a cellist and a bassoon player,” she said. “Of course, I adored singing, but it was sometimes a little bit frustrating as a musician to have only one line to sing. And as a conductor, first of all you have an immense repertoire. A full life is not enough to conduct all the repertoire existing. And this is magic because you can pick all the works you really feel for. And, of course, instead of one voice, you have been put all voice in your hands. So it’s for me the best way to express the music I have in me.”
She is a full-time conductor but sings occasionally.
“I literally have very little time for it,” she said. “It’s just a pleasure sometimes to come back to my original instrument.”
Stutzmann is in her first season as the Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal guest conductor, will serve for the rest of this season as Atlanta’s music director designate and is in her fourth season as chief conductor of Norway’s Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra. She was principal guest conductor of Ireland’s RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra from 2017-20.
She was to have made her Metropolitan Opera debut last month in Gluck’s “Iphigénie en Tauride” but the production was dropped in schedule revisions caused by the pandemic. She is now scheduled for a Met debut next season.