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HPO appoints new music director

French-born conductor and ‘exceptional artist’ James S. Kahane was chosen among 115 applicants and seven shortlisted candidates. He will assume the role in September.

French-born conductor James S. Kahane is the next music director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.

Considered a rising star, the 28-year-old Kahane is principal conductor of the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra, where his a founding member. He is also principal conductor of the Orchestre de Chambre de la Drôme and conductor of the Polytech Orchestra in Finland. He will assume his new role in September at the start of the 2024-2025 season.   

“With his extraordinary musical talent, profound commitment to artistic excellence, keen interest in music education and the vital role that the HPO has played for 140 years in shaping our region’s cultural landscape, James Kahane embodies the vision and values of the HPO,” said Heather Beale, chair of the HPO board of directors in a press release. 

“In him, we have found a wonderful conductor, musician and collaborative leader who can inspire our musicians and delight our audiences.”

Kahane will be responsible for the artistic vision of the HPO and work closely with the musicians and staff to plan all mainstage and community programs, lead the growth and development of the orchestra and represent the orchestra publicly.    

“I am honoured to be entrusted with the musical leadership of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. The growth of an orchestra is a continuous and exciting process and I'm privileged to succeed a long line of esteemed and talented colleagues that have brought the Hamilton Philharmonic to new heights. I'm looking forward to what the future holds, but more than anything, I can't wait to make music together with the HPO again." 

The HPO press release outlined its vision for the qualities it was looking for in a new music director: someone deeply committed to artistic excellence, innovative programming, community engagement and music education. Equally important, the new music director will champion Canadian artists and composers, new music and commissions and continue the work of current music director Gemma New in the concert hall and in the community.  

“James is an exceptional artist with great talent and energy,” said Kim Varian, HPO executive director. “His enthusiasm for music and its ability to connect us really shone through in meeting him. His approach to programming is innovative and his commitment to community engagement and music education speaks directly to our mission.” 

The international search for the next music director began 18 months ago and was guided by the members of a search committee that included representatives of HPO musicians, members of the board of directors, the executive director and the audience, including subscribers and donors.

Seven candidates were shortlisted out of 115 applicants. The audition week, which included leading rehearsals and conducting the HPO in a mainstage concert along with a series of interviews, enabled the search committee to get a good sense of each candidate on and off the podium. All HPO core musicians and staff were surveyed for their comments and input after each performance.  

Kahane guest conducted the HPO in October, leading the orchestra in performing the premiere of HPO composer fellow Kathryn Knowles’s “A Strange and Preposterous Affair,” Britten’s “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge,” Vaughan Williams’s “Oboe Concerto” with HPO principal oboe Aleh Remezau and Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.”

James S. Kahane is the next music director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.

Kahane has conducted many first-rate orchestras around the world, including the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Finnish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. At the age of 21, Kahane was designated by renowned Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki to be her assistant conductor at the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra for its 2017-2018 season. Since 2016, Kahane has been the conductor of the Far(away) Ensemble, a modular and multidisciplinary ensemble with whom he recorded the music of Jacopo Aliboni for the short films Du Temps Perdu and Le Temps Prend Feu.  

With a wealth of experience in both the symphonic and operatic worlds, Kahane has worked as conductor with the Finnish Chamber Opera on several occasions. A regular guest at the Helsinki Contemporary Opera Festival, he also conducted opera productions such as The Tragedy of Carmen by Bizet, The Rape of Lucretia by Britten and Years of Silence by Tuurna. Working regularly with diverse repertoires, ranging from early Baroque up to the music of our times, Kahane was a guest conductor at the NYKY Ensemble, the Hurra Barockorkester, the Somnium Ensemble, the SaxiBa Ensemble, and the Miroirs Étendus Ensemble. Engagements next season include concerts in Finland, Canada, Germany and France. 

Kahane has also been invited to attend major music festivals, conduct master classes and events, including Bernard Haitink's conducting master class at the Lucerne Music Festival, the prestigious Tanglewood Music Festival, the Menuhin Festival in Gstaad, the 2017 Deutsche Dirigentenpreis (German Conductors' Award), where he was one of 12 applicants chosen to conduct the WDR Symphony Orchestra and the Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne.

At the age of 22, he was asked by Kristjan Järvi to conduct the Baltic Academies Orchestra in Berlin during its first international tour, and the following year he was offered a conducting fellowship at the Atlantic Music Festival in the United States. In the spring of 2024, Kahane will be assistant conductor to Hannu Lintu at the prestigious Bayerische Staatsoper. 

A graduate from the world-renowned orchestral conducting class of the Sibelius Academy, Kahane studied under the tutelage of Sakari Oramo, Atso Almila and Hannu Lintu, and benefited from the teaching of major conductors such as Paavo Järvi, David Zinman, Peter Eötvös, Matthias Pintscher, Sir Roger Norrington, John Storgårds, Mikko Franck, Leif Segerstam, Johannes Schlaefli, Nicolas Pasquet and Jorma Panula. 

In 2018, the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE bought the rights to a documentary about three promising conductors of the Sibelius Academy, including Kahane. The documentary was released in Finnish movie theatres in spring 2020. 

Kahane will succeed New who served as HPO’s music director for nine years and stepped down at the end of the 2023-24 season. Kahane will make his debut with the 140-year-old HPO when he conducts the season-opening concert on Sept. 21. 

In 2024, the HPO received the Vida Peene Award from the Ontario Arts Council for artistic and organizational achievement.