Nagano was born in Berkeley, California. He is a third generation Japanese-American.
He grew up in Morro Bay, a city located on the Central Coast of California. He studied sociology and music at the University of California, Santa Cruz. After graduation he moved to San Francisco State University to study music. He also studied at the École Normale de Musique de Paris.
Nagano's first conducting job was with the Opera Company of Boston, where he was assistant conductor to Sarah Caldwell. In 1978, he became the conductor of the Berkeley Symphony, his first music directorship. During his tenure in Berkeley, Nagano became a champion of the music of Olivier Messiaen and initiated a correspondence with him. He was later invited to work with Messiaen on the final stages of his opera Saint François d'Assise.
In 1982, Nagano conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in several of Frank Zappa's completely orchestral compositions for the first time. Nagano recorded several of Zappa's pieces on the issue London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. 1, where Zappa had personally chosen Nagano to conduct the orchestra.
Nagano was music director of the Opéra de Lyon from 1988–1998, where he recorded, with the Lyon National Opera Orchestra and chorus, numerous works. Nagano served as principal conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester from 1992-1999. During his tenure, Nagano received criticism for his expensive and ambitious programming, as well as his conducting fees. However, poor financial management at the orchestra separately contributed to the fiscal troubles of the orchestra. His contract was not renewed after 1999.
Nagano became principal conductor and artistic director of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in 2000, and served in this position until 2006.
Nagano became principal conductor of the Los Angeles Opera (LA Opera) with the 2001-2002 season. In May 2003, Nagano was named the LA Opera's first music director, and he retained this position through 2006. He has been a regular guest at the Salzburg Festival.
In 2006, Nagano became the music director of both the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) and the Bavarian State Opera. In August 2012, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra announced the appointment of Nagano as its principal guest conductor and artistic advisor. In September 2012, the Hamburg State Opera announced the appointment of Nagano as its next Generalmusikdirektor (General Music Director) and Chefdirigent (chief conductor).
Nagano is married to pianist Mari Kodama, and they have one daughter. Source: Wikipedia