Whether you fell in love with Lutoslawski’s Fourth Symphony or loathed it, found a new favorite in Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony or still prefer the Second, Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard had one of the toughest programs to conduct of any of the season’s guest conductors. Based on the audience’s reaction after each piece, it can be said he succeeded.
Abbado might have Dutilleux in April, but Beethoven’s Fifth will have everyone flashing “V for victory” before the night is done. Even the Seattle Symphony debut of John Adams’ Harmonielehre under the baton of Robert Spano has the help of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto.
Dausgaard not only had to contend with the least interesting of Rachmaninov’s piano concertos (the fourth) but he also had the job of guiding the orchestra and (what I am sure was) a skeptical audience through Witold Lutoslawski’s slithering, slinking, and shimmering symphony from 1992. The score alone is enough to make lesser conductors and musicians hurl themselves into Puget Sound.
Under normal circumstances, closing the night with a Sibelius symphony – if it is the First or Second Symphony – would be an automatic hit. Dausgaard picked the Fifth instead, a symphony that begins with two movements that can be problematic for orchestra and audience, but ends with a third movement that is both dignified and resplendent.
Dausgaard led all three with utter conviction, preternatural sense for the architecture of each piece, and unexpected enthusiasm. The committee considering Gerard Schwarz’s replacement would be wise to strongly consider Dausgaard. He is exactly what Seattle needs. He is enthusiastic for newer music (Lutoslawski), can handle the sturdy, always enjoyable late Romantic pieces (as evidenced by the Rachmaninov and slew of Schumann, Beethoven,a nd Dvorak recordings), brings new repertory (think the lesser known music of Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen), has international cache and buzz among the major orchestras in the United States, is an articulate spokesperson for classical music, and is just a plain, nice guy. Dausgaard’s qualities will help the SSO grow as an orchestra and if harnessed properly, will breathe much needed life into Seattle’s classical music scene.
Timing is often everything and the timing couldn’t be better for the SSO– Dausgaard’s contract with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra is up this year.