Headless in Seattle as maestro quits by mail

Headless in Seattle as maestro quits by mail


norman lebrecht

January 08, 2022

The Seattle Symphony has been shocked by the snap decision of its Danish music director Thomas Dausgaard to ‘step away’ from his position with immediate effect. Dausgaard resigned by email from his Danish base two days after returning from Seattle concerts.

The official reason given is the pandemic and its associated travel difficulties.

LATE UPDATE: Dausgaard says: ‘I felt threatened’

Seattle flashed out a fluffy press release:

SEATTLE, WA – The Seattle Symphony honors Thomas Dausgaard, whose defining 12-year partnership alongside the Symphony comes to a close with the announcement today of his decision to step away from his role as its Music Director, ahead of his originally planned final season in 2022/2023. Dausgaard, who appeared regularly as a guest conductor since 2010 and became Principal Guest Conductor in 2014, began his tenure as Music Director of the Seattle Symphony in 2019. Dausgaard’s collaboration with the Symphony for over a decade has earned widespread acclaim, marked by innovative programming, championing of music by composers of today and Grammy-nominated recordings.

Of the decision to now step away from the music directorship, Dausgaard said, “For more than a decade, I’ve cherished my partnership with the inspired, collaborative musicians of the Seattle Symphony and with the wonderful community that we serve. The great people of Seattle are truly among the world’s most engaged, enthusiastic audiences and each concert experience with them has been deeply rewarding.

“There are no words to express the joy I experienced making music together with the orchestra in November, when we were reunited after 19 months apart. The homecoming — after so many months of pandemic-related travel restrictions — was quite something, and I will forever cherish that moment. The global challenges of these years have impacted each of us, our beloved Seattle Symphony and all of society. After much reflection, I have made the decision to step away from my role as Music Director of the Seattle Symphony.

“My partnership with Seattle has been rewarding beyond measure. My decision to step away at this moment when we’ve realized such collective artistic success is a result of these pandemic times, which centers the question for us all: how do we value our lives? I have enjoyed immensely my life with the Seattle Symphony, and it is time for me to move on.

“I wish the very best in 2022 — and long into the future — for the Seattle Symphony and for the many individuals whose talents, generosity, engagement and friendship I will forever cherish with great fondness.”

UPDATE: Dausgaard has also ducked out of this week’s concerts with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, where he is Chief Conductor.



  • Michel Lemieux says:

    There are plenty of top-notch American conductors who can take his place. An American MD must also have a passion for community education and the personality to schmooze with donors.

    Joshua Weilerstein comes to mind.

    • anon says:

      I agree.

      American Symphony Orchestras need to begin serving their communities. That may mean an occasional international guest conductor, but an MD should be a prominent member of the local community leading the charge in recruiting new audience members, supporting local musicians, and providing educational opportunities. Too often, the MD lives elsewhere, flies in for a concert series or two, and is generally absent from the daily concerns of the organization.

    • Musicman says:

      But is Joshua Weilerstein really a great conductor or only getting opportunities because of who his daddy is?

    • seattlemusician says:

      >Joshua Weilerstein

      …you sure? We don’t want him here.

    • Anonymous says:

      When Maazel took over the Malko Competition as head of the jury, Weilerstein was giving a concert with the DNSO. The program included Dvorak 9, if I remember correctly. It wasn’t very good — more importantly *he* wasn’t very good — and I remember hearing Maazel wasn’t too happy about it. Since Weilerstein was a previous winner, his levers to control any of it were limited.

      Life is always easier when Daddy can open doors for you. In case no one has figured it out yet, it’s not about talent. Sure, some talent is required, unless your name is Alondra. But the talent only gets you to the backstage door, capital and connections gets you on the podium.

  • A Dolfadam says:

    There’s a good reason to hire Americans. You can’t assume travel is always a possibility.

  • Bigfoot says:

    I have no doubt the pandemic was a factor, but there has to be more to it than that. It’s a more than a little odd to simply phone in a resignation with 6 months left in the current season. The Seattle Symphony issued a separate press release naming his fill-ins for the remainder of this season simultaneously with announcing Dausgaard’s departure. And one wonders what happens to planning for the 22-23 season.

    Perhaps Monday will bring a press release naming him MD of the New York Philharmonic. And, if we’re lucky, another naming Karina Canellakis as MD in Seattle.

    • seattlemusican says:

      Dausgaard to the NYP?
      Canellakis to Seattle?

      Keep dreaming. We definitely don’t want Canellakis here

    • V.Lind says:

      I’m also inclined to wonder of there is something more than pandemic-related travel problems here. The “time for me to move on” remark is curious in this context. But the cancellation of SSO makes me wonder if he has health issues he does not want to discuss.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      If that were the case, I doubt strongly Dausgaard would have used this strategy. We’ll see.

    • MacroV says:

      AFAIK he has never conducted the NY Philharmonic, so that seems unlikely.

      He has had a lot of travel problems getting to Seattle since the start of COVID. Maybe he’s just decided that regular transatlantic travel is going to be too difficult for the foreseeable future. Though it would be nice if he’d just say “I love the orchestra, but it’s just too difficult to work this way right now.”

    • Frank Flambeau says:

      With all due respect, Bigfoot, the nature of this indicates no big post awaiting Dausgaard. He would have waited for the season to end and then made the switch if he wanted advancement. It will look horrible on his resume.

      Yes, it is odd but to me, it looks like he wanted to return home (he’s only 58 years old) which is what he did. He probably has enough money to live out his life quite comfortably.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Look horrible on his resume” – completely disagree. Frank, this isn’t some typical corporate or blue collar job. Get a clue. Deals are negotiated years out, contracts have escape hatches and clauses. Not really a fan of Dausgaard or the bad management at the Seattle Symphony, but he’s got nothing to fear there.

        These statements are usually drummed up to make it sound like everything’s peachy, but reading between the lines there was probably some type of incident between Dausgaard and management that precipitated his departure, beyond the usual excuse of “Coronavirus”.

        • Frank Flambeau says:

          It will look horrible on his resume because in essence he broke his contract. He should have foreseen covid problems and I doubt that was the real reason.

          • Anonymous says:

            Unless you have a copy of his contract, you should stop saying that or post a copy of it here. Otherwise your comment is empty huffing and puffing.

          • Frank Flambeau says:

            You breach a contract when you walk away from it. I am a law professor.

    • TubaMinimum says:

      Orchestras tend to never want to announce a conductor is pulling out until they can name who is replacing them. So if they have filled multiple concerts for the rest of the season, it’s reasonable to expect that management knew about his departure for at least a little bit. Still sudden, but maybe less so than it looks from the outside.

  • Musician says:

    Before everybody gets on their high horse about “serving the community” a MD first needs to start with fulfilling their normal contractual obligations like showing up to work.

  • Frank Flambeau says:

    This is a shocker and how it should NOT be done by Music Directors or orchestras.

    • Anonymous says:

      Two way street. You ought to get the facts before spouting nonsense. Or maybe if you know more, tell us. There are definitely two sides to the story here.

      • Amos says:

        Unless it can be proven that the musicians and/or board of the Seattle Symphony opted to renege on some aspect of their contractual agreement with the MD it is ignorant and unprofessional to resign in the middle of a season and petulant to do so by email.

  • Frank Flambeau says:

    Lots of very good openings: Chicago, NYC, Seattle, Minny, Indy and more. Lots of great opportunities out there.

  • La plus belle voix says:

    Inasmuch as anything about the pandemic can be good, there might be at some point more change than virus in the air, meaning that Chief Conductors return to living and working in the community of which their orchestra is a part.

  • Dr. Steelhead says:

    To my ear, TD had his weak spots, but, overall, represented an evolutionary improvement for the SSO. Organizations crave good/excellent stability, so to that end, it’s sad to see him go. His abrupt departure raises questions, about the usual Byzantine internecine squabbles champagne and truffle organizations suffer, however, the cancellation of his BBC gigs seems to call these into question. The speed with which management produced a list of fill ins seems de rigeur – the show’s gotta go on. There’s always someone waiting in the wings. Remember Morlot?? I agree with other posts noting the importance of having an MD whose roots are closer to home

  • Music is Life says:

    Such an abrupt way to leave. And after he cut had the Chorale cut by half. Devastates the Chorale and then leaves town. What a guy.

  • Kman says:

    Would Roderick Cox or Ruth Reinhardt be ready for this kind of job? Looks like he’s been on the schedule, and she’s one of the fill-ins.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    The American model will have to change if the COVID is something we have to live with like we do the flu.

    We need more MDs who are dedicated to staying within the community, being seen outside of the orchestra (supporting other arts groups in the city), and being seen as more than treating the community as another ribbon on the lapel while flying around in search of fame and glory.

    European conductors are not “programmed” for this approach since the government assists so much. Socialism isn’t all bad….

    Gerry, for all his flaws and over-extended welcome (26 years is too long) developed deep connections to the city that facilitated the DELOS recordings as well as Benaroya Hall being built.

    As we enter 2022, the model of many orchestras will have to change if survival is top of mind.