Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part series pertaining to the Capital Contemporary Orchestra and its Danish conductor Henrik Jul Hansen.
Danish immigrant Henrik Jul Hansen, who directed the Capital Contemporary Chamber Orchestra in a local performance last weekend, has enjoyed a lengthy and successful career in music.
During a recent meeting with this publication, Hansen, 60, who resides in midtown Sacramento, shared details about that success, his career and his love for music.
Hansen explained that he became fascinated by music at a very young age.
“I had an experience when I was 5 years old,” Hansen said. “My dad (introduced him to the music of Italian composer Giacomo) Puccini (1858-1924). One morning he said, ‘Henrik, come in and listen to this.’ And so, there was this wonderful sound coming out of this opera music, and I don’t know why, but I suddenly realized that music was going to be my life. I felt that my soul was vibrating on a musical note, and it was like I understood that language. It’s like second nature to me.
“I sort of like realized that it was figuring out how to express myself with words. That was going to be my task. Expressing myself with music, that would be easy. This thing of expressing myself with words was kind of what I needed to learn in this life. I don’t know how I knew this, but I knew this at the age of 5.
“It really was wonderful. I started piano there (in Denmark) when I was 5. I got into music appreciation and piano lessons already there when I was 6. And I got into a school that really favored music, and later on in high school, they also had a special music tradition.”
In recalling how he became a conductor, Hansen said, “I started conducting when I was 16. I was in a choir, and it was my music teacher that did that. And he said, ‘Can you take over a rehearsal for me?’ He gave me a week’s notice. Can you believe it? It was really a scary day. We were doing ‘Messiah.’ I took over the rehearsal, and then people said it was like I had been sitting in that chair all along.
“That was really how it started. It gave me a chance to see if this is really what I wanted, and then I went to the university in conservatory in (his birthplace of) Copenhagen, took an education there, went to the Royal Academy (College) of Music in Stockholm, and in Drogden also, and did my post graduate studies there.”
Since coming to the United States in 1988, Hansen has had many musical opportunities.
As for the earliest of those experiences, Hansen said, “I actually had an English girlfriend, who had family over here (in America), so we went over here that summer (in 1988),” Hansen said. “I totally fell in love with America, and I was accepted for Tanglewood the next year, and so, everything took off from there.”
In October 1989, Hansen had his debut concert at Carnegie Hall with a 94-piece orchestra that he had compiled during his time in Tanglewood.
Hansen was able to acquire grants and he was in part sponsored by the Danish consulate.
After working with an orchestra in New York for a couple of years, Hansen became involved in a research project of American music that took him to many parts of the United States.
In remembering that time in his life, Hansen said, “They had a big collection at the Library of Congress, so I started researching this composer, and went to all the places that he had lived and ended up in California. And I thought, California is really lovely and I would like to settle down here, and I got married here (to Donna Pozzi in 1996) and it has been a very special place for me.”
Hansen said that he became involved with the Sacramento Ballet during the following year.
“I started working for the Sacramento Ballet playing piano for them, and they tried me out as a conductor, and they liked what I did,” Hansen said. “So, that was ‘Peter and the Wolf.’ And the following year, we did ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and then we did (another production), and then we started doing all the Nutcrackers.”
In the meantime, Hansen created his own orchestra in the capital city, because the Sacramento Symphony had folded when he arrived in Sacramento.
Hansen worked with other musicians and established the Gold Country Chamber Orchestra in 1998. The orchestra’s last concert was held in May 2011.
Hansen also auditioned for the Merced Symphony, and eventually worked with that symphony for about 16 years.
As explained in the previous article of this series, the Capital Contemporary Chamber Orchestra’s first concert on April 11 was billed as a “reunion concert,” because the orchestra was formed as a re-creation of the former Gold Country Chamber Orchestra.
Toward the end of his interview with this publication, Hansen spoke about his philosophy toward working in music.
“That’s what it’s all about: You have to have fun, you have to have a good time, you have to do things that fill your passion and your heart,” Hansen said. “And if you can share them with some other people and if people like it, then I think you are very lucky.”