After a three-year search, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra has announced Dutch conductor Otto Tausk will take over from music director Bramwell Tovey when he steps down in July 2018.
Tausk, who is music director at the Symphony Orchestra and Opera of St. Gallen in Switzerland, will become music director of the VSO beginning July 1, 2018, for the ensemble's 100th anniversary season.
Tovey, the orchestra’s longest-serving conductor, will become music director emeritus at the end of the 2017/2018 season. He will have had 18 years with the company.
"It's exciting because it’s such a new and different world for me,” Tausk told the Straight, on a quick visit to Vancouver for the announcement. “It’s such a beautiful and wonderful city and such an inspiring environment to be in. I feel the interest in the arts and music is here, and the orchestra is such an important institution in the city. The musicians in the orchestra are so engaged and ambitious."
Tausk is a celebrated conductor in his home country, where he’s worked with major orchestras like the Concertgebouw, Holland Symfonia, and Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, and has enthusiastically performed the works of Netherlands' contemporary composers, such as Michel van der Aa and Lionel Ziblat. He has also held the baton everywhere from Tasmania and Auckland to Strasbourg, Los Angeles, and Copenhagen. His numerous recordings include those with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Tonhalle Orchestra St. Gallen in Switzerland.
Choosing him as conductor is notable in part because of his wide range of musical interests and experience—a must in a city where the VSO, the third-largest symphony in Canada and the biggest arts organization west of Toronto, stages everything from grand concerts of Beethoven, Brahms, and Berlioz to a New Music Festival. The VSO title also means Tausk will become artistic advisor to the VSO School of Music, and artistic advisor to the VSO Institute in Whistler.
VSO president Kelly Tweeddale referred to his diverse accomplishments and expertise in her announcement statement released this morning. “Finding a natural successor to the artistic and community accomplishments of Music Director Bramwell Tovey was no easy task, but Otto Tausk demonstrated extraordinary communication skills with the orchestra and our audiences,” said Tweeddale. “His innate curiosity, attention to detail, and passion for all forms of music made him the clear choice for our community, and I look forward to creating the next chapter of VSO’s rich musical legacy with Maestro Tausk.”
Born in Utrecht in 1970, Tausk took dance and violin as a child. As an adult, he was a rising, award-winning violinist when he discovered conducting.
“It was the classic story,” the affable artist told the Straight. “The conductor was ill and someone asked me to conduct. I really loved it, but of course I was terrible at it. Still I felt, 'This is a place I want to be.'
“If you play the violin you have that one little line you play. As a conductor you have the big picture and there are so many colours you can have as an orchestra. Think of it as a painter: suddenly there are so many other colours that are available to you as a conductor. The amount of repertoire is enormous. I will not be able to conduct all the interesting pieces in my life.”
Tausk went on to study at the Vilnius Conservatoire and served as assistant conductor to Valery Gergiev with the Rotterdam Philharmonic as part of his training. His goal, he said, is to collaborate with an orchestra to “communicate with the audience through music”.
“The most important thing about music is sharing with the audience the meaning of the music--the emotion of the music, the atmosphere.“
That drive to evoke drama and emotion is reflected in laudatory reviews from around the world. Bachtrack has commended the maestro's ability to evoke "extreme contrasts in registers, tones, dark shadows and luminous lights...brought together with great precision"; the Herald Scotland raved of one of his concerts, "It was music of enormous life-experience and depth, movingly-realised by conductor Otto Tausk and the BBC SSO."
Tausk stresses to the Straight that a big part of what drew him to Vancouver was the connection he felt with the musicians of the VSO here. “It was not something that had to be worked on,” he says.
Tausk made his debut with the VSO in January 2016 and was immediately reinvited for his return visit last month, a year later, in a program of Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff that featured a fellow Dutch artist: violinist Simone Lamsma.
Vern Griffiths, chair of the Orchestra Artistic Advisory Committee and member of the Music Director Search Committee (a group representing musicians, board members, and staff), said in a press statement today: “Right after the first rehearsal of his first visit, the musicians of the search committee immediately asked for him to be rebooked for the next season. He is an exceptional musician with really clear vision for what he’s working on right now, as well as vision for how he wants the orchestra to sound five years from now, and how to get there. He’s demanding but respectful, hard-working but having fun at the same time. And it’s all about the music. I’m confident the city will find him as charming and impressive as we have, as we take the orchestra to the next level.”
Tausk said he was drawn by VSO fans here, too: “I also find the audience is really very engaged and really interested in what is going on on-stage. And that's because of the fantastic work that Bramwell Tovey has done so far.”
Expect Tausk to be as keen about contemporary composition as the classics when he takes his position. Tausk works regularly with contemporary ensembles like the Nieuw Sinfonietta Amsterdam and Asko | Schönberg.
"I feel really important as a conductor to be an advocate for a composer--to dare to program new music," he said in the interview. "It's not that I want to do only the new music from Netherlands. I'm really interested to discover these composers here, and there are discoveries to be made as well in Europe. And wouldn't it be nice to take Canadian composers there?"
"At the same time I like a lot of different styles of music," he added. "I think actually one genre helps the other."
Tausk, who currently maintains a family home in the Netherlands, admits the big move to a North American, West Coast setting will be a huge shift--but one he looks forward to. And after years of conducting around the world, he is used to adapting to new cultures.
"Going to a small town in southern Europe is different from going to a large town in Australia or Canada; and going to Beijing is also very different," he said. "But doing the orchestral repertoire that you do everywhere: it feels like something new but something I know very well."