British-born conductor James Judd began his tenure as Music Director of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in 1999 with a gala concert on 3 February, succeeding his predecessor Franz-Paul Decker. During his eight-year tenure at the NZSO’s artistic helm he embarked on an unprecedented number of recordings with the orchestra for the Naxos label, including works by Copland, Bernstein, Vaughan Williams, Gershwin and many others.
He brought the orchestra to a new level of visibility and international acclaim through appearances at the 2000 Summer Sydney Olympic Arts Festival, the NZ International Arts Festivals, the Osaka Festival of International Orchestras as well as a specially televised Millennium Concert with Kiri Te Kanawa as soloist. He led the orchestra on its first ever tour of the major concert halls of Europe culminating with a début appearance at the BBC Proms in the summer of 2005.
“Conducting an orchestra, it’s a very mystical and mysterious thing. You have to get very close to each other’s passions and feelings.” James Judd 1999
The NZSO’s Music Director Emeritus, Judd concluded his tenure as Music Director conducting a gala concert celebrating the orchestra’s 60th Birthday in 2007.
Judd’s passion for the NZSO and its continued evolvement both artistically and commercially was evident early in to his tenure. He was a significant force behind the rebirth of the orchestra’s education programme in 2000:
“This generation’s pop culture is a very different one and we have to convince them that classical music can be just as interesting and exciting,” he said in an interview for Symphony Quarterly 1999,
“I feel the way to do that is through concerts where the music is performed with a real drive and style and passion, because music played with that level of emotional involvement communicates to everybody. I would like to see people comfortably wearing jeans to my concerts, or comfortably wearing tuxedos, so long as they’re enjoying experiencing the music.”
A strong advocate of New Zealand music, Judd recorded the three Douglas Lilburn symphonies around the time the celebrated composer died. These Naxos recordings received rave international reviews:
“James Judd secures playing of nimble polish and infectious dedication from his excellent Kiwi band. Admirable sound and presentation enhance the attractions of a release which deserves to do very well.” Gramophone
This international praise continued with ‘Editor’s Choice’ in the December 2006 Gramophone for Lilburn Orchestral Works, “Once again, I’m impressed by the ardour and sheen displayed by the NZSO, to say nothing of James Judd’s elegant and purposeful direction.” wrote Andrew Achenbach.
And again in 2008 with the NZSO’s recording of Antill’s Corroboree: “This new recording by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under James Judd wins hands down – energy and precision propel the music into a realm far beyond the residue of mere “white fella’s Dreaming.” Gramophone Editor’s Choice
In 2011, Judd returned to New Zealand to conduct the NZSO in a spectacularly successful series of concerts in Auckland – The Zukerman Experience – with legendary violinist Pinchas Zukerman as well as successful concerts with the 2011 NZSO National Youth Orchestra.
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