English National Opera names Martyn Brabbins as music director

Respected conductor takes over from Mark Wigglesworth as company seeks stability after two years of cuts and crises

The British conductor Martyn Brabbins is to take over as the new music director of the English National Opera, in the latest attempt to revive the beleaguered company.

Brabbins follows Mark Wigglesworth, who resigned dramatically in March over radical cuts being implemented across the ENO, saying the company was “evolving into something I do not recognise”.

Brabbins is the first big appointment by the ENO’s new artistic director, Daniel Kramer since he began in the role in August, and who many have hoped will bring stability to the organisation, which has lurched from crisis to crisis over the past two years. At the heart of its ongoing problems has been the need to cut spending after the Arts Council reduced its grant by £5m.

The music director role is a big step up for Brabbins, who regularly conducts top international orchestras, including the Netherlands’ Royal Concertgebouw, the Tokyo Metropolitan and Berlin’s Deutsche Sinfonie Orchester this season.

A Pilgrim’s Progress by Vaughan Williams, conducted by Martyn Brabbins at the London Coliseum in 2012
The Pilgrim’s Progress by Vaughan Williams, conducted by Martyn Brabbins at the London Coliseum in 2012 Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

He also spent 11 years as the associate principal conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and was the artistic director of the Cheltenham International festival of music between 2005 and 2007. Brabbins’s most recent work with the ENO was a performance of Vaughan Williams’s The Pilgrim’s Progress in 2012.

Brabbins will hold the role until 2020, and will conduct his first opera as part of the 2017-18 season.

Wigglesworth, Brabbins’s respected predecessor, had been in his position for less than a year when he abruptly resigned in March. He had presented colleagues and the ENO board with suggestions to cut costs, especially for productions, but they were not implemented and he took issue with the decision to make the season “part-time”.

In a leaked letter to the musicians, Wigglesworth said that “as hard as I have tried to argue to maintain what I believe to be the fundamental pillars of our identity, I have failed to persuade others of this necessity”.

Brabbins admitted that Wigglesworth was a “tough act to follow”, but said he felt “incredibly honoured to have been invited to join ENO and to become a part of this treasured British musical company”.

He added: “It is quite an act to follow, and in a tough financial climate, but I am determined that ENO will continue to produce stimulating operatic performances of the highest musical quality at the London Coliseum.”

As part of its cost-saving measures, the ENO will stage eight rather than 11 productions next season. Highlights will include the world premiere of a new opera by Ryan Wigglesworth, a version of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, with which the actor Rory Kinnear will make his directorial debut.


Hannah Ellis-Petersen

The GuardianTramp

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