November 25, 2017 / 6:20 AM

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Conductor Kent Nagano Talks California Surfing, WWII Internment, Messiaen Internship, Not Speaking Japanese and Frank Zappa

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U.S. conductor Kent Nagano feels he lives in three worlds--his native California, his ancestral Japan and the Europe of the music he conducts. But his spirit is on a surfboard in the Pacific Ocean.

Nagano, 62, is not alone among prominent musicians in having a passion that seems at odds with metronomes and music scores: the late Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan loved fast cars and opera composer Giacomo Puccini kept a blunderbuss at his Italian country villa that could damage a whole flock of ducks.

Nagano, who grew up on a farm in California, near the beaches of Morro Bay south of San Francisco, says surfing is a bit like music, keeping him in touch with nature and the cosmos. And in the era when he started out, surfing was still free.

"Today when you use that word it comes with a lot of connotations, usually phosphorescent wetsuits, fancy sports cars and expensive surfboards," said Nagano, whose trim build and long hair mark him not only as a surfer but also, he told Reuters, prompts people inevitably to spot him as a Californian.

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