Oregon Symphony Hopes for Resurgence under New Musical Direction

David Danzmayr will take on the musical direction of the Oregon Symphony after the resignation of its previous director, Carlos Kalmar, in 2020.

Courtesy of the Oregon Symphony

When David Danzmayr first joined the Oregon Symphony in 2018 as a guest conductor, it only took 15 minutes for him to know this was the right place for him.

“I remember we started with Brahms’ First Symphony, and immediately there was a sound that I found not only appealing but also meaningful to the piece,” he said. “And that was before I said a single word. And that kind of connection, and that kind of offering an orchestra in terms of sound, and in terms of playing, is very appealing to me.

So when the time came for the symphony to choose a new musical director for the upcoming 2021-22 season, it was no surprise that Danzmayr was one of the top contenders.

“We were looking for an extraordinary leader with high artistic standards to develop this multi-Grammy nominated ensemble, a desire to collaborate with our musicians to create world-class music, a dynamic ability to connect with children and adults in our hall and across our community, and a vision of the role of the Oregon Symphony in the future of classical music, ”Scott Showalter, CEO of Oregon Symphony, wrote in an email to OPB.

“In David we have found exactly that leader.”

Danzmayr will assume the role following the resignation of former symphony director Carlos Kalmar in 2020. The process of replacing Kalmar took around four and a half years, after announcing in 2016 that the 2020/21 season would be his last. .

The symphony had over 700 conductors, and ultimately Danzmayr’s history as a guest conductor, his personal relationship with Kalmar, and his commitment to bringing new and exciting music to Oregon won over everyone. world.

“Beyond the stage, he’s committed to connecting with those who have limited access to live music. Given the Oregon Symphony’s long-standing engagement programs in schools, prisons, immigration centers, retirement homes and beyond, David has proven to be a perfect fit, ”Showalter wrote. .

Danzmayr knew from an early age that he wanted to be a conductor.

“As far back as I can remember, I was fascinated by the role of the conductor when I saw him in concert. I love music. I love orchestral music and I love working with people. So I think that’s where part of that background comes from. But I can’t really explain it, ”he said.

As a child in Austria, Danzmayr attended concerts with his father, who was a musician and conductor, and experienced the wonder of the symphony.

“My father had access to many great concerts because besides being a composer and conductor he worked for Salzburg Radio and produced some of the Festival concerts,” he said. “And so, for me, it was normal to listen to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and to listen to the best orchestras in the world from an early age. “

While working as a conductor in Scotland, Danzmayr came to the United States as the musical director of the Illinois Philharmonic in Chicago. As his career grew, interest in other symphonies, including the Oregon Symphony, also increased.

“After conducting twice there, I didn’t just know the orchestra, I got to know Scott [Showalter] of which I have a very, very high opinion, ”he said. “I met board members throughout who were not only friendly, but motivated and caring. I was able to speak to a few musicians. I met the backstage staff and other staff.

The bond between Kalmar and Danzmayr dates back to their meeting in Scotland. This was not the first Kalmar-Danzmayr connection.

“Carlos has become a guest conductor. And so I said, ‘Hello.’ He said to me: “Danzmayr, are you related to Wolfgang Danzmayr? I’m like ‘Yeah, that’s my dad.’ … And so, he tells the story that my dad was apparently the chairman of the jury, when Carlos was in his twenties. And he won his first orchestral conducting competition. And my father was the president of the competition jury! he said.

They have kept in touch ever since.

“I am extremely happy with the appointment of David as the new Music Director of the Oregon Symphony,” Kalmar said via email. “I wish David long term success with the Oregon Symphony and have no doubts that he will fully enjoy the musical journey with the musicians, staff and community of the Symphony,”

Kalmar’s influence is well known in Oregon. During his tenure, the Oregon Symphony received four Grammy Award nominations and generated record revenues.

Danzmayr is excited to build on the work of his predecessor and continue to deliver world-class music to the music-loving audience of Oregon.

“The idea shouldn’t be, ‘Yeah, let’s get rid of it all and change everything. The idea should be “OK. Let’s see where we go from here. We are at a very good level. And we, of course, want to expect to even go higher and kinda like having excitement, ”he said.

The first season of Danzmayr will see the creation of a new creative alliance. The Alliance is a group of musicians who will work with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra to inspire and challenge audiences with their own unique musical experiences and explore important issues facing the community.

“The Creative Alliance is one way for me to show that… I’m the musical director, but we’ve put together a team of people, basically, who are all very interesting and very intelligent musicians, and can bring their own. perspectives and their own ideas at the Oregon Symphony, ”he said.

The artists who are part of the Alliance are Gabriel Kahane, Jun Markl, Simone Lamsma, Gabriela Lena Frank, Johannes Moser and Nathalie Joachim.

“Nathalie Joachim, who will be a singer-songwriter on stage with us and will perform a piece very inspired by her Haitian heritage,” he said. “I come from Austria, I have no Haitian heritage. So I can’t bring that to the orchestra, but she can. And she’s a singer. I am not a singer. I can’t bring it to the orchestra. But she can.

Danzmayr will take over at a time when the symphony, like many arts organizations, is still feeling the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Revenues fell to zero in 2020 and the symphony relied on donations from the community as well as funds from the federal CARES Act. This year, they hope to bounce back from lost income.

“Through regular polls and other feedback, we know that confidence is building to return to the room. In fact, subscription renewals are already beating expectations. Our community is hungry for music live and in person again, ”Showalter wrote.

Showalter said the symphony is implementing different strategies to regain public interest in the coming season.

“We installed the Meyer Constellation acoustic system, a revolutionary technology that provides ideal acoustics for every seat in the room. In addition, for the first time in our history, we are planning to broadcast several programs to subscribers at home. “

But even with the uncertainty, Danzmayr is optimistic about the season ahead.

The 2021/22 season will open in October with Danzmayr conducting Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony. Other favorites include Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony and Handel’s “The Messiah” featuring the Portland State University Chamber Choir.

Kalmar will also return in May 2022 as the award-winning Oregon Symphony conductor to conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 9.

With all the new changes and security protocols, what has remained constant, Danzmayer said, is people’s joy in live music, something he hopes to bring back to the people of Oregon.

“A lot of people really like classical music. And so we’re here to provide them with that. We are not there as a selfish unit. We’re here to provide spectacular, life-enhancing experiences for the public. It can give them something absolutely unique and something magical, ”he said.

The Oregon Symphony 2021/22 season begins October 2.