Daniel Hege failed to follow the traditional route to a conducting career. Despite some back roads, and some fortunate twists, the path has led him to the music directorships of two important regional orchestras and guest engagements that have taken him from the U.S. to Canada, New Zealand, England, Russia and Peru.
Hege will conduct the Spokane Symphony in two performances of music by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Ravel and Sibelius this weekend at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox.
Many, if not most, conductors grow up in big cities going to concerts and taking music lessons from a very early age.
Hege was born in Denver, but when he was 9, his family moved to Idaho to help out on his uncle’s farm near Aberdeen.
“My father was an amateur singer, and my mother had studied music when she was young but did not keep it up,” Hege, an enrolled member of the Colville Tribe, said in a telephone interview.
“They did have a large collection of LP records. They never pushed me to listen, but when I started to take piano lessons when I was about 9, I rifled through those records and came across Bach’s ‘Goldberg’ Variations in the breakthrough album made by Glenn Gould when he was about 22.
“I was spellbound from the first notes of the Aria the variations are based on. It took me on a journey, making me feel the power of music in a very focused way.”
Conductors usually make their way into the profession through large university music schools, or through conservatories such as Juilliard.
Hege chose Bethel College, a small liberal arts school in North Newton, Kan. His father was a Bethel graduate, and Hege had been impressed with visits by the Bethel choir to his Mennonite church in Aberdeen.
“When I was a junior in high school,” he said, “I attended a music camp at Bethel and was very impressed by the teachers and the atmosphere there, knowing I could concentrate on my studies in a school with a teacher-student ratio like that.”
Professional musicians tend to concentrate heavily on their music studies. Hege was a history major; only when he began graduate studies at the University of Utah did his major shift to conducting.
Upon graduating in 1990, he won a major conducting competition in Los Angeles that awarded him a three-year tenure as music director of the Young Musicians’ Foundation Debut Orchestra in Los Angeles, a pre-professional training orchestra.
“A part of the prize was to study with the conductor of my choice, and I chose Daniel Lewis, a great conductor and a phenomenal teacher,” Hege said.
“I took every opportunity to observe Dan Lewis’s rehearsals with the USC Symphony and to observe the rehearsals of the Los Angeles Philharmonic when Esa-Pekka Salonen had just become the music director. Being in Los Angeles at that crucial time of my life was very important.”
After his time in Los Angeles, where he had also been assistant conductor of the Pacific Symphony, Hege held positions as associate conductor with the Baltimore Symphony and the Kansas City Symphony. He became music director of the Chicago Youth Symphony and the Encore Chamber Orchestra in Chicago.
In 1999, he was named music director of the Syracuse Symphony in New York. He added the music directorship of the Wichita Symphony in 2010.
His program with the Spokane Symphony will include Ravel’s “Tombeau de Couperin,” Mozart’s Symphony No. 25, Mendelssohn’s “Fingal’s Cave” Overture and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 3.
The conductor will discuss the selections in pre-concert talks one hour before each performance time.