5 Questions with Conductor Dorrit Matson

We sat down with New York Scandia Symphony conductor Dorrit Matson to talk Niels W. Gade’s bicentennial birthday, the upcoming May 4th concert at Symphony Space, and what it means for her to introduce and celebrate the Danish Golden Age with a New York audience.

The conductor also tells us what Gade himself would have to say about the current musical landscape, in our 5 Questions with Dorrit Matson…

Why is it important to introduce New York audiences to Niels W Gade?

Niels W. Gade is important because of the quality of his music and the impact it had during his life and for many years to come. In the great tradition of the early Romantic era and contemporaries like Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Schubert, Gade composed no less than eight symphonies, many chamber music compositions, a few concertos and an abundance of works for choir and solo voice.

While Gade gained national recognition in Denmark and many of his works became well known in Germany, he has not yet been acknowledged on an international level. I think the year 2017 marking the 200th anniversary of his birth brings a wonderful opportunity to introduce his music to the international community and especially as part of New York City’s musical scene. I hope that our concert in his honor may be the beginning of many more concert programs including works by Niels W. Gade.

As a conductor, what is it like working with soloist Stephanie Chase?

I am very excited about working with Stephanie Chase.
She is recognized as one of today’s great violinists and has performed as soloist with just about every major orchestra in the country. I am convinced that she will deliver a stunning performance and no one could better contribute to a real revival of Niels W. Gade’s beautiful old violin concerto.

Stephanie said she loved the concerto after I introduced it to her, but I still think it is very brave of her to take on a violin concerto that is not part of a solo violinist’s standard repertoire and is certainly unknown to most audiences.

You have some of the most talented musicians in New York City coming out to play for you. What is it about NY Scandia Symphony that draws musicians in?

New York Scandia Symphony is one of the many non-profit arts organizations in New York City. They are small businesses with small administrations, but all so important, as they make up the fabric of Manhattan’s musical scene, reflecting the diversity of our city and featuring the excellence of our artists.

While the world’s greatest orchestras all visit New York City, performing the more traditional symphonic repertoire, we are sharing our special culture and musical heritage with our audiences. We are offering a good alternative, including music that is unknown or seldom heard.

When I first came to New York in the mid-1980s, there were many more such showcases of musical expertise that focused on performing music of a certain style or from a particular region of the world. Many did not overcome the economic crises that we have all experienced during the last decades. 

New York’s freelance musicians are really wonderful.
  They like the challenge of working on repertoire that they don’t play all the time. I think that talented musicians are drawn to Scandia because of our special repertoire and the artistic quality of the group. But they also want to be together and make that commitment to excellence in performance. Most have been part of our roster for so many years and I often hear them say that Scandia is like a family. I feel that there is much loyalty to the orchestra and its mission among the musicians.

What element of Scandinavian music do you feel is most surprising to American audiences?

I think that most are surprised that many Scandinavian composers and their music has eluded their attention for so long. Many have told me that they hear beautiful sounds of the Nordic nature in the music or that they missed listening to music by even well known Scandinavian composers like Sibelius and Grieg, which used to be part of their households.

On the occasion of Gade's 200th birthday, what do you think he would say about the state of symphonic music and symphony audiences around the world?

Niels W. Gade lived in a time when Classical music was an important part of people’s lives. Music was what brought people together. Music societies were established, the symphony orchestra developed to unprecedented capacity, size and focus, and concerts in salons and private homes featuring the newest virtuosi soloists or ensembles were common signs of the time.

Along with his fellow composers, Gade contributed to creating a beautiful Danish treasure of songs, which even today are the center of gatherings in schools and churches.

I think that Gade could not possibly have imagined the diversity of entertainment opportunities that we are offered today. Many of the regional orchestras in the US are experiencing a decline in attendance and engagement of young people. I think the electronic age has a large impact, but it is also so important that the symphony is introduced to children and youth, so that the amazing experience of a live symphony orchestra is included as an option when they make their entertainment choices.

I know that Niels W Gade would agree with me, since he was a great teacher for many, including the younger composers of his time, and concerned about educating the generation to come and those who would follow in his footsteps.