New York Scandia Symphony: Summer Concerts in the Park are Back!

An interview with Dorrit Matson, founder of New York Scandia Symphony.

Founded in 1988 by Danish Music Director Dorrit Matson, the New York Scandia Symphony (Scandia) has amused and educated thousands of New Yorkers with imaginative and inspiring musical programs featuring music old and new music repertoire from the Nordic countries.

For the first time in 32 years, Scandia live performances were put on temporary hold due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Like many other artists and cultural institutions, Scandia had to think in new, creative ways to keep its musicians working and the music alive. The long period of dark concert halls also had a different and more personal meaning. Not only for Scandia, but for people in general, according to Dorrit Matson:

“I believe that it has changed our thinking to have lived with restrictions limitations that have for so long prevented us from being together in a large group, such as a symphony orchestra,” says Dorrit Matson. “I guess that the creation, implementation and performance of the concert programs that make music a part of people’s lives is no longer a given opportunity. Our work has become an even more precious privilege.”

As the lights of New York’s concert halls and music clubs are gradually being turned back on, Denmark in New York caught up with Dorrit Matson to talk about what it has been like to be a music director during COVID-19, how the pandemic may have influenced musical expression, and what we can look forward to this upcoming season.

Dorrit Matson, Founder of the New York Scandia Symphony

Denmark in New York: What and who is Scandia Symphony?

Dorrit Matson (DM): New York Scandia Symphony (Scandia) is a non-profit organization, a symphony orchestra based in New York City and engaging 46 of the finest of the city’s freelance musicians. For the past 32 years, the Scandia Symphony and its ensembles have shared the music of Scandinavia with the American public, reviving and preserving significant classical compositions which might not otherwise have been made available to the public or become an integrated part of the musical scene in New York City.

Acknowledged for its warm and vibrant tone, clarity of expressive detail as well as interesting and exciting programs, the Scandia Symphony is sincerely committed to promoting and performing the music of Classical, Romantic and Contemporary Scandinavian composers, introducing previously unknown and seldom performed compositions in the international and highly professional environment of New York City.

How has it been to be a Musical Director during the COVID-19 pandemic?

DM: As a performing musician and conductor, I have felt the emptiness and uncertainty that most musicians have lived with during the pandemic. The music is part of our lives and there is something missing in our emotional and physical being when we are not able to perform.

As a Music Director, I have had to attend to a number of practical and administrative matters and also attempt to meet the new challenge of creating alternative activities that would engage our musicians as well as building continued support for our organization.

During the spring of 2020 we experienced that suddenly the entire cultural scene in New York City closed. It was the first time in 32 years of Scandia’s existence that we had to cancel a concert. I think everyone was unprepared that this could happen at all and even happen within such short time. Our concert venue, Symphony Space, sent notice that they could not host any programs scheduled during their spring season. Our summer concerts were also cancelled, as the city eventually revoked all the park permits that had been issued for 2020.

At first it was difficult to find answers: City officials and administrators, the musicians union as well as the staff at our venues were all overwhelmed. As a Music Director, it was my responsibility to immediately communicate with the 50 musicians who were engaged for the upcoming concert. Then several talks with the publicist, producer, graphic designer and social media manager followed. Naturally, they all had to discontinue their work to prepare concert programs.

Next, I contacted the sponsors and supporters who had made commitments to support the 2020 programs which were now being cancelled. Most were very understanding and allowed the funds to be used whenever the concert could happen. Only a few foundations were not able to process the funds. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and our council member upheld their contract agreements for 2020 and eventually confirmed a similar agreement for 2021, so the city officials were really trying to protect the cultural organizations.

Can you give one or two examples of how the pandemic may have influenced the way you program or express yourself through music?

DM: Well, we certainly learned that there are alternative ways to do program music, because the only possibility was virtual programming. This has its advantages but personally I still prefer the live audience experience.

As far as expressing myself, I think that I will probably feel even closer to both the orchestra personnel and the audience in the future. I imagine that I will keep appreciating and reflecting on what responsibility and opportunity it is to be the person in between the performing group and the individuals in attendance. I may instinctively connect to listeners more intensely in both a physical and mental capacity.

What are you looking forward to this upcoming season?

DM: I am looking forward to again be able to gather all the musicians as well as live audiences. I am certain that the park will be filled with people who have long awaited the opportunity to gather at live events. Since all concert halls are still closed we are lucky to have an outdoor fine classical music concert series, so residents and visitors can join our cultural journey in spite of the fact that we are still dealing with the pandemic and have to act with caution in public areas.

We will have to wait a little longer before the large symphonic concerts can continue. Scandia’s next concert in Symphony Space is scheduled on October 28, 2021 and probably with only 50 audience capacity.

What kind of music can we expect to hear at the Scandia Symphony concerts this summer?

DM: I was most surprised but also delighted when, in late March, I received notice that the city will reopen its parks this summer and that the Scandinavian Music Festival 2021 in Fort Tryon Park is on — with a live audience!

On May 30, the Scandia String Quartet and Flutist Lisa Hansen will perform a program featuring Edvard Grieg’s String Quartet in G minor, Three Traditional Finnish Folk Dances by Frank Foerster, and Song about Em by contemporary Swedish composer, Emmy Lindstrom. Friedrich Kuhlau had written a very beautiful Quintet in A Major for String Quartet and Flute, which is also scheduled on this program.

On June 6 the Scandia Brass Quintet will present their popular repertoire of brass quintets and arrangements of dances and popular tunes. All five Scandinavian countries are represented, including their individual National anthems.

On June 13 we have a special program for chamber orchestra and three soloists. The popular piece Summer in Fort Tryon Park by Scandia’s resident composer, Frank Foerster will be a highlight of the program. Swedish composer Gunnar de Frumerie will be presented for the first time with his lovely piece Pastoral Svit for flute solo and strings. Lisa Hansen will be the soloist. Another Pastoral by Lard-Erik Larsson will lighten up this event. Steven Hartman will play the solo parts in movements from Clarinet Concertos opus 5 and 11 by Bernhard Crusell. Violinist Elizabeth Miller will be soloist in Christian Sinding’s Adagio from Suite in Old Style.

Denmark in New York is proud to support Scandia Symphony’s 2021 Scandinavian Music Festival with concerts on May 30, June 6 and June 13 at 2:00PM. Separate children’s concert programs are offered on May 29 and June 5 at 3:00PM.

Katrine Nørholm Jensen is the Strategic Communications and Press intern at Denmark In New York.

Sofie Dalhoff Saabye is the Culture and Public Diplomacy intern at Denmark In New York.

The Official Medium Blog for the Consulate General of Denmark in New York. For all things Danish, #DenmarkInNY.