German conductor Christian Reif has quickly established a name for himself as a fast-rising talent. In July 2019, Reif completed a three-year post as Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. His tenure culminated in a six-city European tour with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra including performances at Vienna’s Musikverein, Berlin Philharmonie and Hamburg Elbphilharmonie. Following the performance in Berlin the Merkur wrote of Reif that a “bright future and a great career must lie ahead”.
Reif makes subscription debuts in the 2019/20 season with Royal Scottish National, Gävle Symphony, Stavanger Symphony, Santa Barbara Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, Romanian Radio Symphony, Brno Philharmonic and RTE National Symphony Orchestras as well as the Ulster Orchestra and Fundación Excelentia of Madrid. He returns to the Orchestre National de Lyon in a two-programme Beethoven project and to the San Francisco Symphony in a Soundbox program with soprano Julia Bullock. He will also conduct the Dallas Symphony in an opening gala concert, as well as make appearances with the Orchestre National de Belgique and Orquestra Sinfonica Portuguese in Lisbon.Read more
Highlights of the 2018/19 season included appearances in New York at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival with the International Contemporary Ensemble and as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s MetLiveArts series on a new chamber version of John Adams’s El Niño with the American Modern Opera Company. Other recent debuts included the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C., St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Brucknerorchester Linz and at Opera San Jose on a production of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.
Reif was assistant conductor at the New World Symphony from 2014 to 2016 and a Conducting Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center in the summers of 2015 and 2016. During his time at Tanglewood, he stepped in for Seiji Ozawa to conduct the Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland, and he led the TMC Orchestra in Shostakovich’s 14th Symphony with soprano Dawn Upshaw, baritone Sanford Sylvan and TMC vocalists.
Reif’s enthusiasm in performing contemporary music has led to several world premieres. Among those are Michael Gordon’s El Sol Caliente – a city symphony in honor of Miami Beach’s centennial – and concertos for DJ and orchestra performed at New World Symphony PULSE events where the concert hall is transformed into a nightclub.
Christian Reif studied with Alan Gilbert at the Juilliard School, where he completed his Master of Music in Conducting in 2014 and received the Charles Schiff Conducting Award. Prior to that, he studied with Dennis Russell Davies at the Mozarteum Salzburg, where he received a diploma in 2012. He is winner of the 2015 German Operetta Prize, awarded by the German Music Council, and two Kulturförderpreise awards given to promising artists of the region who promote cultural advancement in their communities.
It is easy to both see and hear that Christian Reif is passionate about Shostakovich, based on the hypnotic concentration and the infectious energy he shaped it all with. He is simply incredibly good at drawing music gesturally, with a gifted body language, precise signals, without just “directing for the audience”. Our orchestra is only getting better and better, it seems, almost from season to season, and Reif was the man to lure out of them both the most perfect harmony and virtuoso solo playing from absolutely all instrument sections.
Facing an unfamiliar ensemble, Reif lost no time in bringing out the flair and elegant vitality of Beethoven’s score. He built up reserves of potential energy in the slow introduction, only to unleash them in a taut, hard-driven account of the first movement itself. He shaped the slow movement sleekly but tenderly, and brought explosive vigor without bluster to the scherzo. The finale, tightly coiled yet moving forward with an almost improvisatory sense of freedom, was the capper to a thoroughly dynamic performance. No doubt about it, Reif is a remarkable talent.
But to think that would be to reckon without the technical assurance and forceful interpretive prowess that this young German has repeatedly displayed over the past two years. He’s a conductor of considerable stature, and everything about Thursday’s concert in Davies Symphony Hall felt like the work of a significant musical artist.
Reif’s mastery extended to matters both large and small. He showed no diffidence about managing weighty blocks of orchestral sound, and he fine-tuned passages of detailed instrumental filigree with the deftness of an artisanal craftsman. (Nothing on the program called much for a mastery of long-range symphonic architecture, but I’m content to wait patiently for Reif’s take on Bruckner.)
And although podium technique can sometimes be an unreliable visual guide to a conductor’s musical artistry, there is a balletic quality to Reif’s physical presence — at once fluid and well-defined — that corresponds well with the qualities he elicits from an orchestral score.