david danzmayr

Behind facades: David Danzmayr, continued

In which we discuss rage, suffering, authenticity, Metallica and Mahler with the Oregon Symphony's new music director

No musician or composer grows up in isolation. Even the most abstract and obtuse artists become so by reacting against prevailing music norms. The extent to which we are molded by our society–and by some sort of “soul” or internal essence or Being–has vexed philosophers for millenia. But I’m glad that we are bringing this discussion into the world of classical music, which can sometimes forget about the influence of popular culture on its most imposing figures. 

One consistent theme in our discussion with David Danzmayr, future artistic director for the Oregon Symphony, is artistic authenticity. It can be intimidating for young musicians to hear “just be yourself!” over and over again from teachers and mentors, but it eventually sticks and becomes clear: it is a life-long process that all musicians strive for.

Oregon Symphony Artistic Director David Danzmayr.

Danzmayr’s father was a composer, and growing up in Austria he was surrounded by the historical legacy of the classical tradition. At the same time, he listened to hard rock and metal as a teenager: Metallica, Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine. I also grew up listening to these bands, among other bands of that generation, although I am a bit younger than Danzmayr. 

We closed last week’s discussion talking about the importance of such cultural influences, which is where we now return to our story.

As before, Danzmayr’s answers have been edited and condensed for clarity and flow.

David Danzmayr: The idea that a composer shouldn’t be influenced by their environment is a purist idea I never understood. The biggest composers were influenced by what’s around them. You should use the cultural influences that you have!


What you see & what you get

ArtsWatch Weekly: Richard Brown's photographic tales of Black Portland; picturing Pride; symphony's new chief; words of the poets; more

PHOTOGRAPHS TELL STORIES – all sorts of stories, in all sorts of ways. What seems like a simple process – point a camera, click, catch an image of the reality right in front of you – can take on much more varied and creative form in the hands of an artist. Yes, sometimes great photographs seem to come out of nowhere, as if by accident. But, like any other artists, great photographers have visions of their own, and the camera is the instrument of their vision. 

Father and child. Photo by Richard Brown, from his memoir “This Is Not for You: An Activist’s Journey of Resistance and Resilience.” 

Portland photographer and activist Richard Brown, who was born in Harlem in 1939, is one of those visionaries, as Maria Choban makes clear in her fascinating essay Brown in Black and White, written on the occasion of the release of Brown’s memoir, This Is Not for You: An Activist’s Journey of Resistance and Resilience, which he wrote with Brian Benson. The book, which contains two dozen of Brown’s remarkable photographs of Black life in Portland and elsewhere, suggests the complex and creative interplay of art and action and community in Brown’s life. 


It’s sometimes necessary to restrict certain things: An interview with David Danzmayr

Talking music with the Oregon Symphony’s new Music Director

With over twenty years at the Oregon Symphony, Carlos Kalmar gave his farewell to Portland with the final cancelled season and their Grammy nomination. He will be joining the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music as the Director of Conducting and Conductor of Orchestras to train the next generation. The Symphony found an up-and-comer in David Danzmayr to take his place as music director for what will hopefully be a long tenure. 

Danzmayr comes to Portland via Austria. In Europe, he won a conducting scholarship with the Gustav Mahler Youth Symphony, where he studied under the greats Claudio Abbado and Pierre Boulez, and served as chief conductor of the Zagreb Philharmonic in Croatia. His work in the U.S. includes his tenure at the Illinois Philharmonic and with ProMusica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio.

The Oregon Symphony concert he conducted as an unofficial audition was one of the highlights of the last season: Stravinsky’s Firebird, Colin Currie’s performance of the Akiho Percussion Concerto, and Ives’ Three Places in New England. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more difficult assortment of pieces from the repertoire for a young conductor. The Concerto is especially notable, a new work of staggering polyrhythmic complexity that Danzmayr handled with ease.

David Danzmayr.

The question is: what does it mean? Will Danzmayr’s conducting style differ radically from Kalmar’s? Looking through reviews of Danzmayr’s conducting, critics have praised his handling of the repertoire and his technical proficiency in fairly vague terms. From my listening, I’m struck by some of his bold interpretations. For instance, note how in this performance of the Blue Danube he savors the accelerando as the dance slowly builds momentum up to the climax. For one of the few classical works to gain massive cross-cultural popularity, he gives new life through his masterful conducting. He achieves a similar effect in this excerpt from Mahler’s First, letting each of the woodwind melodies pop out from the string texture like the bird songs they are evoking.

The circle of conductors is quite small and elite, as it remains such a specialized subject that it still needs to be taught one-on-one. As such, it’s no surprise that Danzmayr has run into former Oregon Symphony conductors before. Kalmar met him when David was a young man, and asked if Danzmayr was related to the composer Wolfgang Danzmayr. He said “yes, that’s my father.” Danzmayr also took part in a competition where James DePriest was judging. If nothing else, this says that he is of the same milieu of top-tier conductors the OSO has enjoyed for decades. 

The role of the conductor is a complex one. Danzmayr describes it well, and in a pretty humorous way in this video. Conductors don’t just get in front of a hundred musicians and wave their arms around: they guide the musicians in interpreting and shaping the music and help define the identity of the organization. As much as we love Kalmar’s dancing and swaying at the podium, he has moved on. This provides a chance for a new personality to rise to meet our orchestra and guide us into the future as it grows and gains more national recognition.

We wanted to get to know Danzmayr better and understand how his personality will guide the course of the symphony. So we sat down and spoke with him about the future of the Oregon Symphony, his background and his thoughts on music more generally.


Festivals of the future

Oregon Symphony’s reborn season, examined

With over a million vaccine doses delivered and summer looming, the Oregon Symphony has announced their return to the Schnitz for a 2021-2022 season. This isn’t simply a re-formulated version of the cancelled 2020-21 season, though a couple of pieces reappear. You can investigate the whole season for yourself right here.

There are two other exciting pieces of news, one of which is the hiring of new music director and conductor David Danzmayr (stay tuned for our interview with Danzmayr in the coming weeks). The other is the Schnitz’s acoustic renovations; the OSO has been coy about that so far, so we eagerly await more details. What we know is that the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust generously donated the $1 million that will pay for the renovations. 

Despite their season being cancelled last March, the symphony has adapted to the moment with their Essential Sounds series, the Storytime series and “minute for music” (listen to them all on Youtube here). Considering how poorly some organizations treated their musicians near the beginning of the pandemic, the Oregon Symphony has done a good job keeping their musicians employed over the last year.

This video may be the best musical primer for the new season: Danzmayr conducting Gabriela Lena Frank’s Elegía Andina, which we will hear at the first concert of the season, alongside a premiere by local violist and composer Kenji Bunch and Mahler’s death-defying Second Symphony.


MusicWatch Monthly: Hot music in the cold city

Warm up your fall with saxophones, film and classical music, international virtuosi, and metallized Metroids

Are you cold yet? Have your fingers and toes and hearts and guts frozen as Winter creeps closer and you face down the end of the world? Are you ready to put on a sweater and a balaclava and drown out the chaos with frosty music and a fire in the belly?

Good! Here’s your prescription for October.


Now that you’re all sweatered up, it’s time for some hot sax. Tuesday, October 2nd–tonight!–it’s the zany trio Too Many Zooz at Crystal Ballroom, wherein baritone saxophonist Leo Pellegrino, trumpeter Matt Doe, and drummer David “King of Sludge” play their stompy dancey “brass house” music. If that’s not zany enough for you, wait until tomorrow and check out skronky Skerik at Goodfoot Lounge on the 3rd. Then, at 4 in the afternoon on the 5th, head over to the Midland Library on Southeast 122nd for the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s tribute to Portland’s Native American saxophonist Jim Pepper. Or wait all the way until next week and dig local diy jazz quintet Blue Cranes at The 1905 on Sunday the 13th.

Oregon Symphony Orchestra

After a cancelled zoo concert and a weekend of Empire, the OSO’s symphonic season is officially underway. We heard from composer Oscar Bettison last week, and you’ll hear all about his rewilded music (performed last weekend alongside Mozart and Brahms) from Charles Rose soon enough. This month, the oldest orchestra west of the Mississippi continues into full fall mode with concerts of music all over the “classical” map, from film music to Stravinsky to Coldfuckingplay.