A Q& A with Seattle Symphony’s principal guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard, who will conduct three performances June 8-10, 2017.

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Seattle Symphony’s principal guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard returns to the city for a three-night program featuring Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, performed by Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto; the U.S. premiere of Helen Grime’s “Snow: No. 2 from Two Eardley Pictures”; and Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 3. Always on the road, Dausgaard answered questions via email about his appearances June 8-10.

Q: First of all, congratulations on the success of the Mahler 10 recording with the Seattle Symphony. It has all the immediacy of the live performance, which I remember as electrifying. Did you know right away that you and the Seattle musicians were accomplishing something very special together? Has this Mahler 10 resulted in requests from other orchestras for you to conduct it?

A: From the first note it felt special! Mahler 10 is such a masterwork, demanding the utmost from everybody performing and giving back a unique experience — performing it is like living on a knife’s edge. The Seattle musicians gave it their all — passion and excellence united in living dangerously for 75 minutes. Recently I performed it with Toronto Symphony and in August I am taking it to the Proms in London with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.


Seattle Symphony with Thomas Dausgaard

With violinist Pekka Kuusisto and soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 8; noon Friday, June 9; 8 p.m. Saturday, June 10, Benaroya Hall, Seattle; tickets from $22 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).

Q: Your upcoming programs in Seattle also offer some major landmarks: the Strauss “Alpine” and “Four Last Songs,” the Nielsen 3rd, and of course the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with Pekka Kuusisto, who made such a spectacular impression last time. Plus a newer work unknown to me, by Helen Grime. Could you discuss these programming choices?

A: Last season we performed Nielsen 4 together, and I was blown away by the orchestra’s performances — they owned it! So, absolutely last minute, we made sure that in this season we would expand on this Nielsen frenzy by performing another great symphony of his, the often ecstatic “ Espansiva,” No 3. As chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, we are commissioning a series of exciting works all inspired by something Scottish — culture, nature, history, legends or whatever the composer is drawn to — and in this case an atmospheric painting by Joan Eardley, called “Snow,” has been the inspiration for the unique orchestral voice of British composer Helen Grime. Pekka Kuusisto, who performed in our Sibelius Festival, is back with the piece he and I performed together for the first time 20 years ago: Mendelssohn’s magical Violin Concerto, which will bridge the gap between the sparkle of “Snow” and the sweeping “Espansiva.” In the Strauss program we bring together his last tone poem, the Alpine Symphony (more snow and expansiveness!) with his Last Songs, and the enchanting soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin will make her Seattle debut with them. Around this concert there will be an opportunity to immerse oneself in Alpine culture: in the foyer you will hear the gigantic Alphorn being demonstrated, and Bavarian folk dancers will show some of their traditional dancing, supplementing the Alpine Symphony!

Q: Do you think there are parallels between the Mahler 10 and the Alpine Symphony? If so, could you discuss them?

A: On the face of it the Alpine Symphony is a vivid musical description of a day’s journey ascending and descending a mountain, and of the emotions this stirs in the wanderer. As these emotions develop in the course of the music, you get a sense that this is more than what can be achieved in a day, and thus it’s more like a life’s journey. Just like the Four Last Songs (1948) seem like Strauss looking back — sometimes ecstatically — on a life lived, the Alpine can also seem very much the same, though written much earlier, 1914-15. Not unlike Mahler 10 — composed in similar alpine surroundings just a few years earlier — its ending is transcendental and allows us a glimpse into a world beyond.

Q: In addition to your guest conducting, your other posts are spread very wide geographically: Scotland, Sweden, Seattle, and of course your honorary status with orchestras in Florence and Denmark. Do you mind the traveling? Do you have any desire to consolidate?

A: In fact, I love traveling! If only I could bring with me my family every week, it would be perfect. I am privileged to be working continually with wonderful orchestras with very different musical outlooks and backgrounds, and their contrasting qualities are a real inspiration for me. If by consolidating you mean narrowing my activities geographically, I don’t have plans for this; after all, I also love performing in the Far East as well as in Australia!

Q: Your relationship with the musicians and audience in Seattle seems to me very remarkable. In 40 years of reviewing concerts for The Seattle Times, I have never seen a guest maestro more warmly received by the audiences. Do you feel this also, from the podium?

A: Indeed, when we did our Sibelius Festival two years ago one member of the orchestra told me how somebody on the streets of Seattle had spotted him driving in a car, waved to him and shouted “Sibelius rocks!” When we perform at Benaroya Hall, it feels like the hall is full of people like this person — what more can you ask for? It is a fantastic audience!

Q: Finally, as you know, the current Seattle music director Ludovic Morlot has announced his decision to leave that post in 2019. If asked, would you be interested in a closer relationship with the Seattle Symphony?

A: I was sad when Ludo told me he was moving on. He is giving the orchestra and the whole organization time to reflect on which direction they want to go. It is a great orchestra and it will be fantastic for whoever is offered the position. I am very happy in my role as principal guest conductor, and we have lots of exciting plans which I am looking forward to tremendously.