He succeeds Andreas Delfs, who in late 2006 announced his intention to step down after next season to concentrate on his growing career in Europe — only to accept an appointment, four months later, as principal conductor of the troubled Honolulu Symphony.
This new post is the third one de Waart will be filling in the coming years: this past summer he was appointed chief conductor of the Santa Fe Opera (succeeding Alan Gilbert), and late last year he extended his term as artistic director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic through 2012.
De Waart will conduct 12 of the MSO's 18 classical subscription weeks during his first season, according to The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. (His commitments for further seasons were not disclosed.) He will have the title of music director-designate for the current season and 2008-09, and room is being made for him on the orchestra's upcoming schedule. (For instance, the program for this coming April 17-20, originally planned as a guest appearance by Nashville Symphony music director designate Giancarlo Guerrero, has been reassigned to de Waart.)
The Milwaukee appointment comes at an opportune time for de Waart: he recently settled his family in nearby Middleton, Wisconsin (hometown of his wife, mezzo-soprano Rebecca Dopp), saying publicly that he doesn't want his children living in Hong Kong because the air pollution there is so bad.
According to the Journal-Sentinel, MSO officials had initially approached de Waart about serving as an interim music director (along the lines of Bernard Haitink in Chicago and Charles Dutoit in Philadelphia) should they be unable to fill the post by next season. But conductor and orchestra turned out to have a strong interest in each other, reported the paper, and after de Waart led some MSO rehearsals in early December, he became the unanimous choice of the ten-member search committee, which includes five musicians.
De Waart is widely admired as one of the best orchestra builders in the business, having raised the quality and stature of four prominent orchestras while serving as music director or chief conductor: the Rotterdam Philharmonic (1973-79), the San Francisco Symphony (1977-85), the Minnesota Orchestra (1986-95) and the Sydney Symphony (1995-2004). He is currently earning considerable acclaim in his Hong Kong post, which he took over in 2004.
"The MSO is better right now than the San Francisco [Symphony] Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra were when I got them," de Waart told the Journal-Sentinel. "Rotterdam, when I got there, was a complete disaster. You don't have that here, and kudos to Andreas for that. [...] The rehearsals in Milwaukee reminded me of what a joy it is to work with musicians who are fast on their feet and absorb not only what I give them but also respond to their colleagues around them. I didn't know this orchestra, I didn't know what kind of shape they were in. I was incredibly, happily surprised."