It’s a logical choice, Austrian conductor David Danzmayr said, to include selections of Austrian music on the programs for his Thursday, July 31, and Saturday, Aug. 2, concerts with the Breckenridge Music Festival Orchestra. The Salzburg native is one of three finalists in the search for a music director to lead the orchestra’s annual five-week summer festival.
In addition to the Austrian pieces, his programs include works by North American and South American composers — a cross-cultural mix intended to showcase the conductor’s interests and abilities. While the two concert programs appear similar in that regard, however, each is bound together by an interesting subtheme.
On Thursday, July 31, “Dream Ticket: New York — Buenos Aires — London” features works by South American composer Astor Piazzolla, the U.S.-based African-American composer Grant Still and Austrian Joseph Haydn.
“All three composers were very clearly inspired by music from the streets or the countryside, the folk music from their countries,” Danzmayr said.
Piazzolla was playing tango in Buenos Aires’ red light district when he met with the contemporary influence of classical music and combined the two to create his own style, the libertango.
“In terms of contemporary music, Piazzolla is one of the most influential and important composers in South America,” said Danzmayr, who spent several years performing Piazzolla’s works on piano with close friends as part of a chamber music group. “This music feels completely natural for me because I played so much of it,” he said.
Similarly, Still and Haydn were influenced by music popular where they grew up. Still’s work includes elements of jazz and soul, while Haydn’s reflects the people and the folk music of the Austrian countryside.
Then on Saturday, Aug. 2, Danzmayr takes a more classical approach but again features Austrian and American pieces. The program opens with Bolcom’s humorous “Commedia for Almost 18th Century Orchestra.” This is a contemporary American work with themes that sound classical, Danzmayr said, to the point that it’s almost as if there are two orchestras having a musical conversation with each other — one speaking the language of classical 18th-century orchestra, and the other, a contemporary American tongue.
The Gulda piece that follows, “Concerto for Myself,” is almost “a mirror image” of Bolcom’s concept, according to Danzmayr, because in this work, an Austrian composer takes a Mozart-style composition and infuses it with inspirations from American jazz.
“Bolcom is an American composer who deals with Austrian music, and Gulda is an Austrian composer who deals with American music,” Danzmayr said.
The internationally recognized Austrian-Russian pianist Lisa Smirnova joins the orchestra for the Gulda piece.
“I played with her two times before, and she is just sensational,” Danzmayr said, applauding Smirnova not only for her technical ability but also for the soul and meaning she brings to the music. “The Gulda — she owns that piece. She really is special, and she has something to say.”
The concert concludes with the most intense piece of the evening, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.
About the conductor
Danzmayr received his musical training at the University Mozarteum in Salzburg, home of Mozart, and he served as assistant conductor for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra before moving to the United States with his family last year. The 34-year-old is now music director of the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra in Chicago and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio.
Although he is relatively new to conducting chamber orchestras, which are distinguished from symphony orchestras by their smaller size, Danzmayr said he is inspired by the clearer sound that the opportunity often affords.
“There is more listening to each other, instead of relying on the conductor alone,” he said. “It is often a special atmosphere where the musicians are really enjoying each other.”
The conductor sees his role as making sure orchestra members believe in him and are inspired by him, enough so they are inspired to play as well as they can — “because they all want to play,” he said, “and they can all play very well.”
Likewise, he sees the audience as a crucial part of any performance, and relishes the connection between stage and guests.
“If I were a rock guitar player, I would be the one diving into the crowd,” said Danzmayr, who likes to sit on the edge of the stage after concerts to answer questions. “In the end, we are doing something we love, and if the audience enjoys it, that is part of the experience. It influences all of the outcomes if the audience is really engaged.”
On that note, audiences are invited to engage with the prospective conductor at the two concerts and, afterwards, weigh in on the decision as to which candidate will make the best new conductor for the Breckenridge Music Festival Orchestra. The other finalists are Francesco Lecce-Chong, who conducted the orchestra on Thursday, July 17, and Saturday, July 19, and Rossen Milanov, who will conduct the Friday, Aug. 8, and Saturday, Aug. 9, concerts. The new conductor will be announced in the fall.
Erica Marciniec is a paid writer with the Breckenridge Music Festival.
“IN TERMS OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC, PIAZZOLLA IS ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL AND IMPORTANT COMPOSERS IN SOUTH AMERICA”