For Jaime Martín, the first time was the charm. The Spanish conductor, who made his Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra debut only in September, has been named the ensemble’s next music director.
LACO is expected to announce Tuesday that Martín is the successor to Jeffrey Kahane, who stepped down in June after a 20-year tenure.
Speaking by phone from London, Martín said he was surprised by his appointment, which will begin in the 2019-20 season.
“I just came to do a week of work with the orchestra for two concerts,” Martín said. “To be honest, I thought I had arrived too late to be considered for the post.”
But Martín, 52, recalled that from the first five minutes of the first rehearsal with the LACO musicians, he felt a special connection.
“It felt like we had a natural way of communicating with each other,” he said. “It was a big surprise, I think, for all of us.”
Principal flute of the Royal Philharmonic and London Philharmonic orchestras and of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Martín turned to conducting full-time five years ago. He is principal conductor of Sweden’s Gävle Symphony and chief conductor of the Cadaqués Orchestra, a chamber ensemble in Spain.
“Martín brings a shared sense of musical culture between London and L.A.,” said Scott Harrison, LACO’s executive director. “Jaime’s ambitious and that’s good. If Neville Marriner were here, I think he’d approve of our choice.”
Harrison was referring to LACO’s first music director, founder of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the prestigious chamber orchestra based in London. Martín worked with Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields for 15 years, becoming principal flute.
It was Marriner who encouraged Martín early on to become a conductor. “There are a lot of hidden connections with LACO,” Martín said. “Well, not so hidden.”
Indeed, Martín often performed with Iona Brown, LACO’s music director in the 1980s and ‘90s. She also encouraged him to conduct.
“I suppose I’m a cocktail with different ingredients and influences,” said Martín, who has also worked with conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Zubin Mehta. “I’m happy I didn’t become a conductor sooner, because I would have missed being a soloist and principal with great orchestras.”
Martín, who studied flute in the Netherlands during the heyday of the period instrument movement, brings with him wide experience in the Baroque repertoire, a LACO staple. As the sixth music director of the orchestra, he plans to expand its programming, which combines core repertoire with modern music.
In April 2019, Martín will lead a program featuring Mozart’s Requiem and the West Coast premiere of Bryce Dessner’s “Voy à Dormir,” a LACO co-commission.
“I would like to continue that line of commissioning new pieces, and I think the orchestra is expecting me to bring some European composers they haven’t played before,” Martín said. “There are some Spanish composers doing things at a very high level, and I want to look at some Americans who are composing interesting works.”
Martín added that he’d eventually like to focus on touring and recording with LACO — “to get people around the world to know what we are doing, and to have a presence not only in the U.S., but also in Europe.”
But first there is work to do.
“The orchestra has a particular style, which I think is fantastic, and I have my particular style,” Martín said. “We have to find how we are going to combine those different accents to make something exciting and unique.”
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