David Afkham

Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, Orquesta y Coro Nacionales de España

Credit: Gisela Schenker


David Afkham is Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Orquestra y Coro Nacional de España since September 2019, following a highly successful tenure as the orchestra’s Principal Conductor since 2014. His work with the OCNE so far has featured critically acclaimed performances of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, Bruckner Symphony No. 9, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Brahms’ Requiem, Haydn’s Die Schöpfung, as well as several world premieres and semi-staged projects with Wagner’s Die fliegende Holländer, Strauss’ Elektra, Bach’s St. Mathew Passion and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle. Born in Freiburg, Germany, in 1983, David Afkham is in high demand as a guest conductor with some of the world’s finest orchestras and opera houses, and has established a reputation as one of the most sought after conductors to emerge from Germany in recent years.

Future highlights as a guest conductor include debuts with the Belgian National Orchestra, Münchner Philharmoniker, the Symphony Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu (Barcelona) as well as return invitations to the Copenhagen Philharmonic and NDR Elbphilharmonie.

As an opera conductor, David Afkham made a noted debut at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 2014, with Verdi’s La Traviata, later reviving the production for performances around the UK and Ireland for Glyndebourne on Tour. In 2017, he conducted Ginastera’s Bomarzo at Teatro Real in Madrid in a new production by Pierre Audi, to unanimous critical acclaim, and leading to an immediate re-invitation. In season 18/19 he made his German opera debut at Frankfurt Opera with Humperdinck’s Hänsel & Gretel, followed by Stuttgart Opera with Wagner’s Die fliegende Holländer. He opened his 19/20 season at Theater an der Wien with Dvorak’s Rusalka. In 20/21 he will conduct Tannhäuser at the Liceu Opera in Barcelona, and further ahead he is looking forward to conducting productions of Strauss’ Arabella and Wagner’s Meistersinger.

David Afkham began piano and violin lessons at the age of six in his native Freiburg. At 15, he entered the city’s University of Music to pursue studies in piano, music theory and conducting and continued his studies at the Liszt School of Music in Weimar. David Afkham was the first recipient of the ‘Bernard Haitink Fund for Young Talent’ and assisted Maestro Bernard Haitink in a number of major projects including symphony cycles with the Chicago Symphony, Concertgebouworkest and London Symphony Orchestra. He was the winner of the 2008 Donatella Flick Conducting Competition in London, and was the inaugural recipient of the ‘Nestle and Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award’ in 2010. He and was Assistant Conductor of the Gustav Mahler Jungendorchester 2009-2012.

For full biography, please download Artists “publicity pack” with season biography and photos opposite.


From The Green Room

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    31 Oct 19 Brahms Symphony No. 3
    Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Hall, Chicago

    “… David Afkham led an exquisite performance that blended Brahms’ predominantly sparkling lyricism with moments of stunning power, all of it cast in playing of lustrous beauty…”


    Lawrence Johnson, Chicago on the aisle

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    02 Nov 18 Brahms Symphony No. 1
    Philadelphia Orchestra

    “… David Afkham, German-born conductor of the Spanish National Orchestra and Chorus, led the orchestra [Philadelphia] in such a dazzling performance I felt as though I never heard the First before. Gone was all pomposity. Instead, the structure of Brahms’s careful writing shone clear and bright, like a crystal scaffold embracing and releasing music of almost unbearable intensity…”


    Linda Holt, Broad Street Review

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    21 Aug 17 Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D Major
    Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood

    “For the second summer in a row, Andris Nelsons has invited the young German maestro David Afkham to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood. It’s fair to say that the conductor fully repaid the confidence placed in him, demonstrating again a remarkable assuredness for someone his age.

    Brahms’ Symphony no. 2 in D major seems to be a predilect work for Afkham. He conducted it in New York four years ago at the helm of the Mostly Mozart Orchestra. Now, leading one of the world’s great ensembles, his thoughts about interpreting this warhorse were made even clearer. Afkham’s Brahms is a youthful one, without lingering rubati and questions about direction. He knew exactly what he wanted to achieve: neither a continuation of the grim atmosphere prevalent in the First Symphony nor a full rejection of the past. Hence, he superbly maintained a balance between sunny and gloomy segments, triumphant enthusiasm and somber doubts (as expressed by James Sommerville’s horn calls), passionate Romantic content and Classical form, graceful pianissimos and heavy brass. To underline the importance of the cellos for this music – introducing themes in both the first and second movements – he placed them in the center of the stage, anchoring the entire orchestral sound. Ambiguities between binary and ternary rhythms in the Adagio and several rapid switches in mood in the first half of the work could make one think that the gap between Brahms’ and Mahler’s worlds is not as wide as generally perceived. The orchestra responded very well to Afkham’s relentless drive, with a clean sound balance between winds and strings.

    …David Afkham has conducted only rarely in the United States. Other American orchestras should follow Boston’s example and invite him to guest conduct as much as he is available.”


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    22 Jan 17 Strauss, Elektra
    Auditorio Nacional de Música, Madrid

    “…Undoubtedly, their brilliant Head David Afkham was bound to see possibilities to turn this wager into a leap Forward. He was right: OCNE has staged a memorable concert…”

    El País, January 2017

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    21 Oct 16 Shostakovich Symphony No. 10
    Chicago Symphony

    “Afkham showed how eloquently and powerfully Shostakovich’s masterpiece can speak to us on its own, purely musical terms. How inexorable was his building of linear and harmonic tension through the long, archlike opening movement…How implacable was the fury Afkham unleashed in the whirlwind Allegro, which generated the kind of driving excitement you associate with the symphony’s greatest early interpreters, Dimitri Mitropoulos and Evgeny Mravinsky…The thunderous reiteration of the “DSCH” monogram at the peak of the finale sealed the triumph, Shostakovich’s as well as Afkham’s.”
    Chicago Tribune 

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    18 Nov 15 Staatskapelle Berlin
    Philharmonie Berlin

    “Aus dem feinmaschig geknüpften Klangteppich lugt eine hohe Sinnlichkeit hervor. Mal verteilt die Musik Streicheleinheiten, dann klingt es bedrohlich wie die Musik zu einem Thriller…Diese Ambivalenz hat David Afkham grandios eingefangen und die Partitur hervorragend durchleuchtet. ”

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    04 Jul 15 SWR Orchester
    Konzerthaus Freiburg

    “Das Reißerische ist dem Mann am Pult wie dem brillant folgenden Orchester keineswegs fremd. Es bleibt indes alles straff, nervig. Es kommt keine klangliche Fettsucht auf, kein Schwulst. Delikateste Ausformulierungen in der lyrischen Salonnähe, Feingefühl und Leidenschaft: die Sinfonie – ein Drama. Grandios.”
    Badische Zeitung

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    10 Oct 14 Verdi La Traviata
    Glyndebourne on Tour

    “Underpinning these three singers’ musical achievements is the conducting of David Afkham, who finds the melancholy “tinta” of the piece even in its outwardly glittering moments. From the first bar to last, he maintains dramatic tension in the excellent orchestral playing.”
    The Telegraph, 12 Oct 2013

    “Afkham sympathetically supports the singers and shapes the ensembles with propulsive flair…Afkham shows here that he is a man to watch in opera.”
    The Times

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    08 May 14 Schubert Symphony No. 9
    Philharmonia, Royal Festival Hall London

    “in the ensuing Allegro it was at once noticeable that the conductor was letting the music breathe; there was no hard driving, but instead airy, dance-like rhythms and light accents; immensely likeable and almost intimate”.

    “Afkham’s interpretation combined vigour with poetry, gently unfolding the melodies of the first movement with lovingly caressed phrases”.

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    24 Aug 13 Schubert: Symphony No. 9
    Blossom Festival, Cleveland Orchestra

    “Afkham was sensitive throughout to pictures both long-term and fleeting, demanding a high level of refinement all along the route to lofty, meaningful destinations. The balance he struck in the Andante between volume, tempo and expressive detail was nothing short of perfect.”
    The Plain Dealer. 26 Aug 2013

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    16 Aug 13 Brahms Symphony No. 2
    Mostly Mozart Festival, Lincoln Center

    “His expansive left-hand gestures and dancelike body movements are balanced by a right hand that delineates the beat with sober precision. And that beat was impeccably judged. In Symphony No. 2, Mr. Afkham’s swift tempos and supple phrasings emphasized the natural flow and self-evident beauty of Brahms’s score. Alert to the fleeting harmonic changes, Mr. Afkham never indulged in unnecessary drama but allowed each resolution enough space to unfold its sweetness.”
    New York Times, 18 August 2013 

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    22 Mar 13 Concert
    Seattle Symphony

    “Then, after intermission, there was the small matter of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a supreme peak for any young conductor — any conductor — to scale. Afkham’s account was something of a revelation. It made most performances of the work that one routinely hears seem merely generic.
    There was a lightness yet also a seriousness about the performance, often laying bare vistas that made even so familiar a piece sound thrillingly new. The second movement, taken very fluently, was airy in texture, and the finale, instead of being portentous, actually sang. The string sound, again, was at once light and firm”
    Seattle Times

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    23 Sep 12 Concert
    Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra

    “It was clear that orchestra and conductor had a terrific connection, and Mr Afkham demonstrated a mastery of the score. The orchestral playing was intense, bringing out the human dimension of Shostakovich’s music.”
    Seen and Heard International

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    01 Jul 11 Concert
    Cleveland Orchestra

    “In a brilliant Cleveland debut, Afkham … outlined a bold vision marked by screaming highs and tense, grinding lows. Even within the narrowest musical confines, he found room for drama.”