Consider me a Dausgaard partisan


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.

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3 thoughts on “Consider me a Dausgaard partisan

  1. Zach: I think we can all understand why you are a Dausgaard stalwart. Not only is his contract up at the end of the 2010-11 season but so his his just across the bridge Malmo counterpart V Sinaisky. His Sibelius #2 put me over the edge last year. The beauty contest continues and who knows what the search committee is up to. People who buy the tickets will be the last to know.

    But the key question for audience and committee alike is what is the plan to put 2,500 people into the Hall 4 to 5 nights a week, 36 weeks a year if not more. I love your interviews with the guest conductors coming to town! But what about the key question. What is their plan to build attendance. I asked Gaffigan that question after a Saturday night concert and came away with a unsatisfactory politically correct answer but with a faint glimmer of hope of understanding. Can you press them on the question “How do you plan to make the SSO the go to Seattle event?”

  2. Thanks Phil. Of course I can ask that question. I have brought it up periodically, depending on who I was interviewing. Although, I think building attendance isn’t just the province of the Music Director. Have you read Mark Swed’s article about P. Boulez? Boulez’s idea is to have interactive multi media centers at the concert hall so people can interact with the music before they ever hear it on stage. I think (but this could be in another article) he also suggests keeping the concert hall open longer so it becomes something like a quasi public space. Both of these techniques would help attendance, I think. Locally, Seattle Opera does audience engagement about as good as anyone out there. Frankly, I think it is one of the reasons they are so successful. You could say that it is harder to interact with orchestral concerts, but a little creativity goes a long way. Something as simple as thematic programing would help tie pieces together. Geography is the crutch theme, but it doesn’t have to be. A little creativity goes a long way. For instance, it isn’t billed this way but the two pieces on Robert Spano’s program next month — the Rach 2 and Harmonielehre are both responses to writer’s block! There’s a theme right there. You can also have shorter programs with more explanation. I am glad to see we are importing the CSO’s Beyond the Score series next season. And, beyond that, there are also the Musically Speaking concerts the SSO has been putting on for sometime. But, even if you get people through the door with these gimmicks, you still have to transform those people from one time ticket buyers to subscribers and eventually donors. Patience, hand holding, and engagement: these are all needed to bring the next generation of music lovers along.

  3. I agree, Zach – the SSO’s programmes could go a lot further in terms of coherence. I’ve been trying for a year now to figure out a connection between Dutilleux’s “Tout un monde lointain…” and Beethoven’s 5th – aside from the “eat your vegetables and you’ll get dessert” mentality that comes immediately to mind.
    The interactive multimedia centers would seem to be a good idea, but there would need to be enough stations that audience members could use them without waiting so long they lose interest. Similar ideas have been tried on a smaller scale (I have a CD by Saariaho which features something similar) but I don’t know that anything like that has been developed either in the US or abroad. Perhaps a collaborative effort with other orchestras would be fruitful.
    On the other hand, before embarking on such a major project, the SSO website could use upgrading – and that absolutely unreadable 2010-2011 season brochure needs to be redesigned, too…

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