Washington National Opera (WNO) and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts have announced the retirement of Music Director Heinz Fricke. The announcement marks the conclusion of the German maestro's remarkable 18-year tenure leading the Washington National Opera Orchestra and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, which cooperatively share a corps of 61 professional musicians. In recognition of Maestro Fricke's contributions and the pivotal role he played in the musical development of the groups, Maestro Fricke will hold the honorific title of Music Director Emeritus of both the Washington National Opera and Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestras.
Commenting on Maestro Fricke's time with WNO, Washington National Opera's General Director Placido Domingo said, "As WNO's Music Director, Maestro Fricke took a group of dedicated and gifted musicians, and shaped them into a world-class opera orchestra befitting the nation's capital. As Washington National Opera grew, Maestro Fricke ensured that the quality of music-making grew as well. Thanks to his talents and expertise, Washington audiences enjoyed some of the finest interpretations of Strauss, Mozart and especially Wagner. In our hearts, Maestro Fricke is forever our Music Director. We thank him for his tireless contributions and wish him well in his retirement."
"Maestro Fricke has made a significant contribution to the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra," stated Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser. "His professionalism and leadership have consistently elevated the artistry of the Orchestra throughout his music directorship, and the musicians he has engaged over his tenure will continue to enrich the Kennedy Center for years to come."
Speaking on behalf of the musicians of the orchestras, principal horn player and Orchestra Committee Chairman Greg Drone said, "Maestro Fricke brought the orchestra to a level that was unimaginable before his arrival. Each production he conducted brought positive reviews and a growing appreciation from the audience of the orchestra's important role in the opera house. Having selected more than two-thirds of the orchestra's musicians, his legacy will continue for years."
Maestro Fricke first appeared with WNO in 1992, leading critically acclaimed performances of The Flying Dutchman. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed Music Director of the WNO and Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestras. In this position, he worked to select musicians, lead performances, recommend artists and productions, and develop the artistic quality of the orchestra. In a 2005 review, former Washington Post music critic Tim Page noted that "Heinz Fricke has been a central figure in the capital's musical life for more than a decade. No conductor has summoned better playing from [the Opera's] orchestra."
Washington National Opera had planned to formally honor Maestro Fricke in October during its production Salome, which he was scheduled to conduct and which would have been his final appearance on the podium as Music Director. In June 2010, it was announced that he would be unable to conduct these performances. Since autumn 2008, health problems have prevented Maestro Fricke from traveling to Washington, D.C., forcing him to withdraw from other scheduled engagements as well.
Anticipating the conclusion of Maestro Fricke's tenure, in 2008 WNO leadership initiated a search for his successor. The company expects to announce its next Music Director during the 2010-11 season.
Maestro Heinz Fricke made his Washington National Opera debut in 1992 conducting The Flying Dutchman. Since being appointed Music Director, he has conducted numerous productions, including Parsifal, Der Rosenkavalier, Don Giovanni, Salome, Die Walküre, Il Trovatore and Die Zauberflöte. He previously held the position of music director of Staatsoper Berlin (1961-1992) and Den Norske Opera (1984-1990). Maestro Fricke has made many recordings of both operatic and symphonic repertoires and has frequently conducted at Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Bayerische Staatsoper München, Wiener Staatsoper and Hamburgische Staatsoper. He has conducted the major symphony orchestras of Europe, South America, Japan and Australia. Maestro Fricke conducted Parsifal at Royal Opera House with Plácido Domingo, which he also conducted on the company's tour to Rome. In 2006, he celebrated the 60th anniversary of his conducting debut.