Oct 01, 2023
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra's David Danzmayr reflects on career
From the time he was 3 years old, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra Music Director David Danzmayr was certain he wanted to be a conductor. In his hometown of Salzburg, Austria — also the place of birth of
From the time he was 3 years old, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra Music Director David Danzmayr was certain he wanted to be a conductor.
In his hometown of Salzburg, Austria — also the place of birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — Danzmayr was exposed to classical music constantly. His mother took him to concerts, where his attention was drawn to the person on the podium.
“I was really fascinated by the figure of the conductor,” Danzmayr said. “I remember throughout my childhood, I would kind of take chopsticks . . . and conduct with the recordings.”
As his career as a conductor progressed, Danzmayr remained sure of his sense of purpose. In 2012, when he was up for the job to lead ProMusica, it took only a single audition with the orchestra for him to know he had found the right spot.
“For me, it was just so immediate — this feeling of, ‘Wow, there is something there,’” he said. “There is just something very uniquely special about this group.”
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That feeling was shared by leaders at the orchestra, who had the daunting task of replacing retiring music director Timothy Russell, who co-founded the organization in 1978.
“Whoever came into the role had big shoes to fill following our founder,” said CEO Janet Chen. “(David) was the right person at the right time.”
This week, Danzmayr will embark on his 10th season at the helm of the orchestra by leading its annual summer concerts at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Alum Creek Park Amphitheater in Westerville, and at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
During those 10 years, Danzmayr, now 43, has grown into his role of steering the ship of an organization whose 37 musicians commute from all corners of the United States. The ensemble gathers in Columbus for rehearsals and concerts throughout the year. Most, including the official season-opener on Oct. 7-8, take place in the Southern Theatre.
“He has raised the artistry of the ensemble,” Chen said. “He brings out the best of each musician, and he instills in each musician the ability for themselves to see the potential of what they can contribute as artists.”
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Danzmayr, who is one of two children, credits his parents with instilling within him a sense of his own nascent artistry.
His father worked at a local radio station in Salzburg, while also maintaining a sideline as a composer. His mother was an artist who encouraged David to pursue — and practice at — the piano.
“I have to give my mom the most credit for me having somehow become a musician, because she was the one who was sitting beside me when I was practicing,” Danzmayr said. “It’s easy to forget that without a certain push from the parents, learning an instrument, even for a child that loves music, is hard work.”
And he drew plenty of inspiration from the talented conductors he saw onstage.
“The real point that needs to be driven home is, if you want to have people look up to some people and think about doing that yourself, it needs to be somebody that mesmerizes you,” he said. “If the concert is lame, you will not be very interested.”
While still in high school, Danzmayr began studying music at the Mozarteum University Salzburg, a music university. But he bristled at the conformist environment.
“It was just so, so not my world,” Danzmayr said. “I wanted to become an artist. ... I generally don’t react well to any kind of regimentation.”
Eventually, Danzmayr returned to the Mozarteum for his higher education. Upon graduation, he embarked on a conducting career that first took him to Glasgow, Scotland, where, from 2007 to 2010, he served as an assistant conductor at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
After returning to Salzburg to work as a freelance conductor, two American orchestras expressed interest in hiring Danzmayr: the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra and ProMusica. He wasn’t necessarily looking to relocate to the U.S.
“To be perfectly frank, I really didn’t quite care where the job would be,” he said. “Everybody basically said to me, ‘You’ve got to eventually become a music director.’”
Accepting both positions, Danzmayr moved to Naperville, Illinois, with his family: his then-wife Kathrin, a singer, and their son, Merlin, and daughter, Arwen.
Eventually, with ProMusica becoming increasingly his focus, the family moved to Worthington.
Year in and year out, through concerts that ranged from playing Beethoven masterpieces to hosting gifted guest artists to presenting operatic collaborations, Danzmayr was committed to developing ProMusica.
“I had this idea that this orchestra would become the best chamber orchestra in the world, or at least in America,” said Danzmayr, who feels he built on the promise already existing in the ensemble.
“You had this car, like a real nice old Ferrari, but it just needs some tuning up, maybe a new bumper or something — you just need to work on it, but there’s a real racing car in there,” he said.
Added Chen: “He really believes — and this has now become kind of our mantra — that ProMusica starts where other orchestras end.”
Among the programs of which Danzmayr is proudest include an ambitious effort to perform each of the symphonies of Franz Schubert. He also points to the ongoing “Composer/Performer Project,” in which instrumentalists play their own compositions with the orchestra.
The combination of playing iconic repertoire, such as masterpieces by Schubert, alongside contemporary works represents a continuation — and expansion — of ProMusica’s heritage, Chen said.
“He’s taken that DNA, that little helix, and really made that blossom,” she said.
Meanwhile, Danzmayr — who has since left the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra — continues to be a sought-after leader of orchestras. In 2021, he won the position of music director of the Oregon Symphony in Portland, where he now makes his home with his children; he and Kathrin are now divorced.
“They’re really one of the great American orchestras,” Danzmayr said said of the symphony.
The national reputation the conductor is acquiring only enhances ProMusica’s profile, Chen said.
“There are now musicians from all over the country who, if they meet me, say, ‘Oh, you’re at ProMusica — David Danzmayr is your music director, he’s amazing,’” Chen said.
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Danzmayr’s current contract with ProMusica will assure that he remains with the orchestra at least through the 2025-26 season.
“I think there’s more for us to do at ProMusica,” Chen said. “There were a lot of aspirations that were put on hold because of COVID, and now we are reimagining what that looks like.”
The music director admits his schedule is hectic, but he remains attached to the orchestra in a powerful way.
“I sometimes sit at home and I think, ‘My life is complicated, something has got to give,’” Danzmayr said. “But it’s very hard for me to consider that I would not work with ProMusica. It’s become just such a part of my life.”
Like Chen, Danzmayr has as-yet unfulfilled hopes for ProMusica. He wants to take the orchestra on tour and to make recordings; the orchestra is currently seeking the best recording venue.
“I think in Columbus, everybody recognizes the quality of ProMusica,” he said. “But I think we need to document this now for the wider (world).”
He will also be happy if he has made an impact closer to home. Perhaps, in one of the countless audiences to have seen a ProMusica concert over the last decade, there has been a young boy or girl who has seen Danzmayr conduct — and has been inspired as he once was.
Said Danzmayr: “That would thrill me so much if one day somebody who is now a kid would say, ‘Oh, you know, I watched ProMusica, and then I thought, “I want to become a conductor or a player.’”