Seattle Symphony enters new era with Thomas Dausgaard in 2019-2020 Season, his inaugural as music director

Thomas Dausgaard
Thomas Dausgaard

Seattle Symphony Music Director Designate Thomas Dausgaard and President & CEO Krishna Thiagarajan announce the Grammy-winning orchestra’s 2019–2020 season, charting the course for a new artistic partnership and a new era in the orchestra’s history. The season’s programs reflect Dausgaard’s strong desire for the orchestra’s sound to reflect and represent humanity, as well as his deep curiosity about the creative process. In addition to featuring several dozen living composers, and composers who have been left out of the traditional symphonic canon, Dausgaard has invited the community at large to participate in music-making as artists, composers and performers.

“I’m thrilled to join the Seattle Symphony on a journey that reflects our world and the pressing issues of our time,” shares Dausgaard. “It is my dream for our musicians and our audiences to feel a joint ownership of this orchestra, reveling in our performances and the joy and richness of classical music and the voices of today. In many of our programs, and especially our Beethoven 2020 Festival, our orchestra will be a means for our community to tell its story. We want the Seattle Symphony to be a source of life and vitality, offering spiritual experiences which inspire on many levels and where each program expresses something about who we are. I can’t wait to get started.”

“We are so inspired by Thomas Dausgaard’s expansive vision for community, youth and making great art more accessible for everyone,” comments Thiagarajan. “His first season of programs will take us on an extraordinary journey of human expression, from the traditional and familiar to the bold and innovative. Next month we’ll open our new immersive venue, Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center, making even more experimentation and growth possible with Thomas in the years ahead. As we prepare to embrace new artistic leadership, we also express immense gratitude to Ludovic Morlot for our eight-year partnership which has elevated the orchestra to international recognition, while strengthening our community bonds. We also thank our incredible audiences and community for their support and invite everyone to join us at Benaroya Hall next September as we usher in a new chapter for Seattle with Thomas as our Music Director.” 


Among the many highlights of Dausgaard’s first season as Music Director, several programs stand out including R. Strauss’ Salome; an all-American program featuring Bernstein’s Songfest, Hannah Lash’s Double Harp Concerto and Daniel Kidane’s Dream Song; Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; and Haydn’s The Creation.

Thomas Dausgaard and the Seattle Symphony will perform R. Strauss’ rich and expressive Salome, one of the greatest masterpieces of the 20th century. Joining Dausgaard for these performances are soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin as Salome, bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams as Jochanaan, tenor Peter Bronder as Herodes, mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens as Herodias and tenor Ross Hauck as Narraboth.

In a program focused on distinctly American music, Dausgaard has programmed the U.S. premiere of Daniel Kidane’s Dream Song, inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the world premiere of a Double Harp Concerto by Hannah Lash, commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and performed by harp soloists Hannah Lash and Valerie Muzzolini, alongside Bernstein’s deeply moving Songfest which sets 13 poems by 13 American poets in a song cycle. About Songfest, Dausgaard shares, “When I was about 12, I had watched Bernstein on TV conducting Brahms’ First Symphony, without which I think I would not necessarily have become a conductor. In 1988 I was lucky to be a student at Bernstein’s conducting master class at the Schleswig Holstein Festival where he conducted Songfest. His total identification with the music, just pouring it out of himself so that it became alive and gripping was overwhelming. It is an incredibly powerful work, without pompous celebration, but celebrating diversity in humankind as well as in music.”

Dausgaard will pair Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring with Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy. While both were Russian composers and near-contemporaries, each invented very different musical languages. In keeping with Dausgaard’s tradition of deeply exploring the historical context and influences on composers in his “roots” programs, performances of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring will be prefaced by discussion and performances of traditional Russian folk music and dance.

Haydn’s masterpiece The Creation, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard, will be performed by the orchestra for the first time since 1961. Joining them will be soprano Julia Lezhneva, tenor Kenneth Tarver, baritone Benjamin Appl and the Seattle Symphony Chorale. As Dausgaard describes the work, “from its dramatic depiction of chaos at the beginning to the magic creation of light, the moon, the sun and of all living creatures — ending in Adam and Eve falling in love — this is music of the most sublime inspiration, humor and joy.”


The Seattle Symphony’s first-ever Nielsen cycle, which began in 2017 with the Grammy-nominated recording of Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 with Thomas Dausgaard, will continue with a live concert recording of Symphony No. 2 in April 2019 and Symphony No. 1 in January 2020. Thomas Dausgaard has previously released two critically acclaimed recordings with the Seattle Symphony (Mahler’s Symphony No. 10, Deryck Cooke version and Nielsen Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4), and his future recordings with the orchestra will continue to capitalize on the orchestra’s compelling live performances, recorded masterfully for the Seattle Symphony Media label by the orchestra’s Grammy-winning recording engineer, Dmitriy Lipay.


In celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday in the year 2020, the Seattle Symphony joins musical organizations around the world in mounting anniversary celebrations. 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 in exploring Beethoven’s continued relevance to modern society. In the space of three weeks, the orchestra will perform all nine symphonies alongside new works created, inspired or performed by community members.

In recent years, the Seattle Symphony has taken the unusual step of curating community artistic projects in a way that honors the intention of individuals and organizations in the community, and now bring these projects to the main subscription series. These projects, which have invited community members to compose and perform alongside Seattle Symphony musicians, have furthered the community’s conversation about music in surprising and intensely meaningful ways. They include Prism Project with youth from Accelerator YMCA, New Horizons and YouthCare; Lost and Found with Path with Art; We Are the Art with Plymouth Housing Group; We Are All Here as part of a larger community project presented by Path with Art, All of Us Belong with Catholic Housing Services, Compass Housing Alliance, Mary’s Place and Plymouth Housing Group; Lullaby Project in partnership with Mary’s Place; and Native Lands with local tribes, which will now be reimagined for the Beethoven 2020 Festival.

Born out of a time of revolution and upheaval, Beethoven transformed the role of an artist in society and the fundamental role of music as a mode of self-expression. Seattle Symphony Vice President of Education & Community Engagement Laura Reynolds shared, “In Seattle, we are exploring the role of an orchestra in its community and using composition to connect with our region, which is in a period of dramatic change. We’re asking what it means to be in and of this time in history, what it means to be a Pacific Northwesterner, and who is granted access to a place in the program book.” Vice President of Artistic Planning & Creative Projects Elena Dubinets added, “Audiences will hear Beethoven’s symphonies through the lens of four world premieres which reflect our time and our place, and we hope that will transform our understanding of who we are and why symphonic music is such a critical component of modern self-expression.”

The festival launches on June 11 and 13 with the stories of local youth. A New Work for Youth Chorus and Orchestra will be composed and performed by teens from across King County with leadership from local composer Angelique Poteat, to be performed alongside Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3. Poteat is a former participant in the Seattle Symphony’s Merriman Family Young Composers Workshop, and since then her works have been performed at Benaroya Hall on multiple occasions. This will be her second major commission from the orchestra following the premiere of her Cello Concerto, also in the 2019–2020 season.

That same week, on June 12 and 14, the Seattle Symphony will give the world premiere of 2017 MacArthur Fellowship recipient Tyshawn Sorey’s New Work for Cello & Orchestra featuring Artist in Residence Seth Parker Woods. This world premiere will be performed alongside Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos. 2 and 7. This is Sorey’s first commission from the Seattle Symphony, one of the many facets of his role as the Seattle Symphony’s 2019–2020 season Composer in Residence.

On June 18 and 20, members of regional native tribes build on their landmark Potlatch Symphony project from 2013 with composer Janice Giteck, and will perform the world premiere of Potlatch Symphony 2020, featuring the return of violinist Swil Kanim and native flutist Paul Chiyokten Wagner. Potlatch Symphony 2020 will be performed on the same program as Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos. 6 and 8. That same week on opposite days, the orchestra will perform the world premiere of a new work composed by community members in a process led by composer Charles Corey. This new work will be written specifically for the unique instruments created by composer-inventor Harry Partch (1901–74). A collection of more than 50 of these microtonal instruments currently resides at the Harry Partch Instrumentarium at the University of Washington School of Music in Seattle, under the direction of Charles Corey.

In the final week of the Beethoven 2020 Festival, the orchestra will perform Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy featuring pianist Francesco Piemontesi and Symphony No. 9, “Choral” with soprano Celina Shafer, mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, baritone Dashon Burton and the Seattle Symphony Chorale. In the spirit of shifting the role of the artist and building community in the concert hall, the entire audience will be invited to join in singing the “Ode to Joy” finale along with the orchestra and chorus.