Music Director, 1993-2010
Eminent German conductor Heinz Fricke was virtually unknown in the United States when he made his debut conducting Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer with The Washington Opera in 1992. A distinguished maestro in his mid-60s, Fricke’s long career had been spent behind the iron curtain as Music Director of East Germany’s leading opera house, the Berlin Staatsoper. His deep musical knowledge, outstanding conducting technique, and wealth of experience were immediately apparent to the musicians of the KCOHO and General Director Martin Feinstein engaged him as the orchestra’s new music director.
The dynamic presence of Heinz Fricke inspired great changes for the orchestra. Audiences and the press loved him, and his charisma brought an attention to the orchestra that it had not experienced in its first twenty years. His leadership and artistic demands elevated the orchestra to a new level: the orchestra had begun a great transformation. Over the course of his 18-year tenure he selected over two thirds of the orchestra’s members through highly competitive international auditions. Through his initiative, the KCOHO began performing an annual concert on stage in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, for which he frequently chose principal players as featured soloists. The public responded to these free programs with standing room-only enthusiasm. In all, Fricke conducted a total of 33 productions of 28 different operas. According to Washington Post critic Tim Page, “Anybody who heard Heinz Fricke conduct the Washington Opera's magnificent Der Rosenkavalier last year knows that…Fricke is a genuine find; nobody in my experience has summoned better playing from the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.”
Near the end of his tenure, health concerns forced Maestro Fricke to withdraw from conducting. Sadly, he would never return to the United States. Heinz Fricke passed away on December 7, 2015, at the age of 88. The musicians of the KCOHO shared their appreciation of Maestro Fricke in this online memorial.