Music That Changed My Life: Thomas Dausgaard Looks Ahead

Music Director Thomas Dausgaard reflects on his inaugural season as Music Director of the Seattle Symphony.

By Catherine Nguyen

Thomas Dausgaard exudes a special energy; one that marvels at the world around him.

“I love the way nature interacts with the city of Seattle; you are never far from the water, and that means space, where you can feel the elements and the changes of light,” he says. This same type of sensitive reflection is most certainly a part of his music as well.

Thomas is no stranger to Seattle. Our city has been a home away from his native Denmark for quite some time. He has been the Symphony’s Principal Guest Conductor since 2014. Together, he and the orchestra achieved international acclaim with recordings of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 10 and Carl Nielsen’s Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4.

Yet we’ve only seen a glimpse of his musical interests. So, at the start of his first season as Music Director, we share more on Thomas’ musical identity and his vision for the season.

“This season is an invitation into my world, into some of the music which changed my life — music close to my heart and which has played a continuous role in my musical life,”

shares Thomas. “I find it very inspiring to think that we as an orchestra are a giver of life and vitality for the community, offering spiritual experiences which inspire on many levels, with each program expressing something about who we are and where we are going together.”

The Stravinsky Rite of Spring concert in November fully encapsulates this sentiment. The concept of inspiration will manifest in an exploration of the composer’s folk music roots. Not only will audiences hear the iconic Rite of Spring, they'll also gain a deeper understanding of the music by hearing folk music that inspired Stravinsky.

Beethoven is another composer who wrote music close to Thomas’ heart. This season marks the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Thomas and the Seattle Symphony are taking the celebration a step further: over three weeks in June, the orchestra will perform all nine of Beethoven's symphonies alongside a series of newly commissioned works created, inspired or performed by the community.

“I am always drawn to an element of context, so rethinking how to celebrate the humanist ideals of Beethoven in a way which meaningfully involves communities in Seattle is incredibly stimulating, like creating a completely new context.”

Thomas brings Beethoven to Seattle from a place of deep passion — for the music and the people. “[In his Ninth Symphony,] Beethoven sets to music the text by Schiller with the famous line that ‘we shall all be brothers.’ [The celebration presents] his music in the context of his brothers and sisters here in the United States, and, in particular, Seattle.”

The Seattle Symphony’s Beethoven 2020 Festival promises to be a major event for the community, culminating in season-long creative work that puts community members at the forefront.

The festival launches with the stories of local youth, composed and performed by teens from across King County led by composer Angelique Poteat and Community Youth Chorus director Megan McCormick. That same week the Seattle Symphony will give the world premiere of 2017 MacArthur Fellowship recipient — and Seattle Symphony 2019–2020 Composer in Residence — Tyshawn Sorey’s New Work for Cello & Orchestra featuring Artist in Residence Seth Parker Woods. Following that, members of regional native tribes will premiere Potlatch Symphony 2020 with composer Janice Giteck, featuring the return of violinist Swil Kanim and native flutist Paul Chiyokten Wagner. A world premiere composed by clients at Northwest Center for People of All Abilities and composer Charles Corey will be featured on the fourth festival concert.

Thomas adds, “Beethoven was my gateway to classical music. When I was about 10 I formed a rock band together with three other boys. I loved it. But when I first heard Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata about a year later there was no way back. The rock band disbanded and I reveled in Beethoven, listening to and playing all I could get hold of. I feel a connection to his music, and in some way I felt understood through it. And it opened my ears to all those composers who had inspired him — and to those he inspired afterwards. His music had an elemental force, it was larger than life, and it had a humanity and warmth. I couldn’t imagine a life without it.”

This season Thomas invites us to explore his most formative music, letting us inside his musical identity and showcasing his personal touch and artistry. As music inspires Thomas, he is sure to pass on the same to Seattle. We look forward to seeing him step on the podium and begin his new journey with the Symphony.

See Thomas Dausgaard in action! From handpicked favorites to new premieres, Thomas has prepared an exciting season.

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Posted on September 6, 2019

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