22 Jan 2024

Dunedin conductor dispenses musical medicine

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 22 January 2024
Tecwyn Evans

Tecwyn Evans Photo: Joris Jan Bos Photography

Tecwyn Evans hasn't quite given up conducting for a medical career, but his new job is just what the doctor ordered.

Evans, back in his home town of Dunedin for the first time in five years, talks with RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump about his new role as Artistic Director of the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra in Denmark.

Music's role in Danish life is enshrined in law, not just for its cultural value, but because Danes believe listening to an orchestra is good for your health.

One of Evans' first projects as Artistic Director was to set up 'listening sessions' to help Aalborg locals cope with stress.

"We have a process in the city where people can go to the doctor and actually instead of getting a prescription for a drug, they can get a prescription for a concert."

Have many of the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra's regular listeners have been referred to the orchestra by the medical system?

"Well, it's Denmark, so we're not allowed to know," says Evans, "but we will actually have a group of people who will come to rehearsals, and they call that 'Cultural Vitamins' basically. Usually every week, we'll have 10 to 15 people in our rehearsal, just watching and enjoying music without feeling they have to be in a big audience."

When he's not doing his bit for the mental health system, Evans is working on planning the schedule and charting the artistic direction of an orchestra which serves a city about the same size as Dunedin.

Aalborg; a bit like Dunedin only flatter.

Aalborg: a bit like Dunedin only flatter. Photo: Wikimedia

Like Evans' home town, Aalborg is a coastal city.

Unlike Dunedin, it's flat. The steepest thing about Aalborg is perhaps its tax rates, which is maybe why it can afford such a good orchestra.

Evans also thinks music matters more to Danes.

The House of Music, Aalborg, Denmark

The House of Music, Aalborg, Denmark Photo: CC Attribution 2.0 [https://www.flickr.com/photos/tprzechlewski/15208525628/in/photostream/]

Perhaps that's one of the reasons Evans is now based in Scandinavia. He divides his time between Aalborg (during the week) and Sweden (at weekends) where he's bought a house with the other – probably more significant – reason for his choice of location: his wife, soprano Susanna Andersson.

And these days, he also has a Swedish daughter – another reason to stay close to the Baltic.

Back in Aalborg, that role music plays (which Danes have set out in law) means that Evans doesn't have to spend so much time justifying government funding by increasing his audience. He's just expected to deliver good music.

Although he hasn't forgotten new – and younger – listeners. Another one of Evans' initiatives is the 'Baby Symphony Project'.

"So we've got a project with some players who are literally playing for babies just crawling across the floor, and it's been sold out every time we've done it recently and we can't do enough concerts."

Does Evans miss conducting?

He says he gets as much of a buzz out of artistic planning as he did out of wielding the baton.

He also listens more. When he was a full-time conductor, he tended to avoid concerts like a bus driver might avoid a holiday with Intercity. He's enjoying being an audience member these days.

And he hasn't entirely given up conducting. Just the other day, Evans was directing the Copenhagen Philharmonic in a New Year's Concert.

As well as coming back to Dunedin, Evans also spent time in Nelson directing the annual Teapot Valley Choral Camp.

But he pauses when asked where home is: Scandinavia?

"It's where my house is."

Maybe getting a break from the long Nordic nights might persuade his wife and daughter to spend more time here.