Seattle Symphony: 2019 Year in Review

Clockwise from left to right: Conductor Emeritus Ludovic Morlot takes a bow at his final concert in June 2019 (Photo: Brandon Patoc); Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center, a new venue at Benaroya Hall, opened to the public in March 2019 (Photo: Brandon Patoc); The Seattle Symphony welcomed Music Director Thomas Dausgaard in September 2019 (Photo: Karya Shanilec); Composer in Residence Derek Bermel working with a Compass Housing Alliance participant (Photo: Brandon Patoc)

From Grammy Awards to world premieres, 2019 was a banner year for the Seattle Symphony.

By Shiva Shafii

“Some institutions prefer the comfort of inertia, holding off on necessary change until the last minute. The Seattle Symphony, in contrast, has enthusiastically embraced its role as a catalyst for change.” – Vanguard Seattle

Between dynamic performances, electrifying recordings, and creative collaborations, 2019 was a monumental year for the Seattle Symphony. The orchestra commissioned new works, won two Grammy Awards, opened an innovative venue that explores the future of music and technology, celebrated a vibrant music director who redefined the orchestra and welcomed a new music director to define a new era in Seattle.

While this list isn’t complete, here are a few of our favorite highlights of 2019. Thank you to all our Seattle Symphony donors, subscribers and ticket buyers who celebrated all of these moments with us and helped to make each one possible!


Solace in Music

Letter to the Seattle Symphony from a child whose parent was furloughed in January 2019 (Photo: Shiva Shafii)

“They can’t give you your back pay, but they can offer what they have, which is music. And that’s really all you can really ask of an arts org.” – The Stranger

In January, thousands of federal employees across the country. The Seattle Symphony extended complimentary tickets to concerts throughout the rest of the season for those affected. Seattle Symphony President & CEO Krishna Thiagarajan shared, “Federal employees devote their careers serving the greater nation. At a time when they are being asked to make sacrifices, we hope our small gesture can help alleviate some of the burdens they and their loved ones are experiencing.”

New Voices and Radical Cultural Collaboration

“It’s this warmth, this collective vibration of humanity, that is a key component of Caroline Shaw’s compositional voice and it is so powerful here.” – KUSC

Composer Caroline Shaw taking notes during a rehearsal at Benaroya Hall for her new work, Watermark (Photo: James Holt)

Composer Caroline Shaw was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 — the youngest music prize-winner ever. On January 31 Shaw arrived for the world premiere of her first concerto co-commissioned by the Seattle Symphony, Watermark, performed by pianist Jonathan Biss and conducted by Ludovic Morlot.

“The music inhabits a unique and unpredictable world in which memories of East and West intermingle alluringly.” – Musical America

In an exchange of ideas, culture and tradition articulated through music, the Seattle Symphony and the Silkroad Ensemble gave the world premiere of two commissions on February 6: a new clarinet concerto performed and composed by the spellbinding clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, and a bold and majestic new work by Chen Yi, titled Introduction, Andante and Allegro.

Grammy Awards

“The Seattle Symphony is up for three Grammy Awards on Feb. 10 — a good reminder that we have a world-class orchestra playing almost every weekend here.” – The Seattle Times

Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony won two Grammy Awards (Photo: James Holt)

The Seattle Symphony was the most nominated orchestra in the country this year — and they took home two Grammy Awards in February for their recording of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Violin Concerto. Commissioned and premiered by the Seattle Symphony, the recording featured violinist James Ehnes with Ludovic Morlot conducting.

Music Director Thomas Dausgaard and the Seattle Symphony were also nominated for the first time in the category of Best Orchestral Performance for their live recording of Carl Nielsen’s Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4, on the Seattle Symphony Media label.


The Future of Music

Octave 9 is groundbreaking. In this space, we will live and breathe today’s art and support contemporary composers with a dedicated medium for their work. Arts are the way a society articulates itself, and Octave 9 signifies the importance of supporting the voices of today.” – Krishna Thiagarajan, President & CEO

On March 3, the Seattle Symphony unveiled Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center, a new venue at Benaroya Hall. The only known space of its kind, Octave 9 is an immersive environment for inventive performances, learning and community engagement. Octave 9’s first season contained five world premieres, over 70 contemporary composers and 70 instrumentalists from the opening in March through June 2019. The grand opening was celebrated with the orchestra’s first 24-hour contemporary music marathon.

Visions and Community Voices

“Just two months before his death, Dr. Walker had been keenly anticipating the opportunity to experience Sinfonia No. 5, “Visions,” in a concert hall. He was looking forward to the first live performance, which will be given by the Seattle Symphony on April 11.” – The New York Times

George Walker broke barriers throughout his distinguished career, first as a pianist and then as a composer. He became the first black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1996. Thomas Dausgaard led the Seattle Symphony in the first-ever public performances of George Walker’s Sinfonia No. 5, “Visions,” which was composed in response to the 2015 Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.

“Three months ago if somebody had told me that somebody would be singing something I wrote on stage…I never would have believed them.” – Steve, Compass Housing Alliance participant on Reflections on Service

In May, Composer in Residence Derek Bermel collaborated with residents from Compass Housing Alliance, a leading provider of housing services for veterans experiencing homelessness. The resulting composition, entitled Reflections on Service, was performed jointly by veterans and members of the Seattle Symphony.

Simple Gifts projects represent an opportunity for community members who are experiencing or who have experienced homelessness — who often feel invisible — to be seen and heard, with their voices amplified by the art they are creating together with the Seattle Symphony.


The End of an Era

“The Seattle Symphony, under the leadership of Ludovic Morlot, is a revitalized orchestra.” – The New Yorker

The Seattle Symphony celebrated eight transformative years under the leadership of Music Director Ludovic Morlot, who was named to a new position, the Judith Fong Conductor Emeritus, in June. During Ludovic Morlot’s tenure, the Seattle Symphony saw thrilling performances, inventive programming bringing together the familiar and the unfamiliar, award-winning recordings, tours to Carnegie Hall and the West Coast, daring multimedia projects, as well as work with youth, families and the community.

As Conductor Emeritus, Morlot will continue his fruitful relationship with the Seattle Symphony, which has resulted in an expanded orchestra, nearly 60 commissions and premieres, 19 recordings on the Seattle Symphony Media label, five Grammy Awards, and Gramophone’s Orchestra of the Year Award. Thank you, Ludo!


A New Chapter

“You can tell by the wild cheering emanating from Benaroya Hall: Thomas Dausgaard is [back] in town.” – The Seattle Times

In a pivotal moment in the orchestra’s history, the Seattle Symphony celebrated Thomas Dausgaard’s arrival as Music Director in September. Dausgaard is no stranger to Seattle — he’s been the Principal Guest Conductor since 2014 and has since garnered international recognition for his collaboration with the orchestra.

Audiences from the Opening Night Concert roared with thunderous applause for both Daugaard and Daniil Trifonov — giving four standing ovations at the end of the concert. The excitement continued at the orchestra’s Opening Night Gala, which raised a record-breaking $2 million dollars.

The Symphony also released Dausgaard’s inaugural album as Music Director with live recordings of Rued Langgaard’s Prelude to Antichrist and Richard Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony, If that wasn’t enough, nearly 35,000 people tuned in the next week for the orchestra’s live broadcast of Dausgaard conducting Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.

2019 at a Glance

  • 18,000,000 minutes streamed on Spotify
  • 1,500,000 video views
  • 362,471 concert attendees
  • 150,000 social media followers
  • 10,209 children attended education concerts
  • 6,182 free tickets distributed
  • 28 commissions and world premieres
  • 3 new albums on Seattle Symphony Media
  • 3 Grammy Nominations
  • 2 Grammy Awards
  • 1 new venue

Thank You!

Thank you to all our Seattle Symphony donors, subscribers and ticket buyers who celebrated all of these moments with us and helped to make each one possible!


Posted on December 19, 2019