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De Cou to the West Coast

Emil de Cou, the popular associate conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra for the past eight seasons, and since 2005 the NSO @ Wolf Trap Festival Conductor, has gotten a music directorship of his own. He will take the musical helm of the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, Washington at the start of the 2011-12 season.

De Cou will conduct two PNB performances next season -- “Cinderella” in February, 2011, and “Giselle” in June -- before taking over full-time in the fall of 2011.
(read more after the jump)

De Cou is no stranger to ballet, having worked for eight seasons as conductor of the American Ballet Theater and on the staff of the San Francisco Ballet, finishing as acting music director, from 1994-2001. In Washington, though, he’s been most notable for his striking versatility, with able, fluid, and often graceful performances of everything from Hollywood film scores at Wolf Trap to nine of the orchestra’s American Residencies in different states around the country to the annual “Messiah” at the Kennedy Center.

“De Cou's conducting was the highlight of the evening,” Tim Page wrote in the Washington Post in 2005 of one “Messiah” performance. He “found all sorts of intricate detail in Handel's orchestration without letting it overcome the score's dramatic essentialism,” and “had some original ideas.”

In the 2009-10 season, De Cou also took over the Virginia Chamber Orchestra, which allowed him, Mark Estren wrote here last fall, “a chance to innovate,” or at least to expand his repertory with programs of his own making.

He’s also written program notes, led outreach programs, and even, in a move that gained a lot of notoriety, composed Twitter postings that went out to Wolf Trap patrons who desired them during a performance of Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony.

The conductor is returning to the coast of his birth; originally from Los Angeles, he first studied conducting with Herbert Blomstedt, the underrated and canny Swedish conductor who used to head the San Francisco Symphony, before a stint in Europe as conductor and, sometimes, horn player.

He goes to a classy company, among the more important in the United States, which under Peter Boal supports a generally traditional ballet aesthetic, offers more than 100 performances a year and tours not infrequently. The “Giselle” next season is supposed to be a highlight, reconstructed from original notation with the help of an expert in this classic work.

In a statement, De Cou described his previous performances with the PNB as “a total and absolute joy,” adding, “It is a privilege to have the opportunity to work with Pacific Northwest Ballet and the wonderful PNB Orchestra in this most magic of all art forms.”

Edited to add: Though his contract with the National Symphony Orchestra runs out at the end of this month, he will continue as the conductor of Wolf Trap, and remain at least through this season with the Virginia Chamber Orchestra.

By Anne Midgette  |  August 10, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  Washington , national , news  
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