Joseph Swensen currently holds the post of Conductor Emeritus of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, where he was Principal Conductor from 1996-2005. He was recently appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada in Spain and Artistic Partner of the Northwest Sinfonietta (USA). Swensen was also Principal Guest Conductor & Artistic Adviser of the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris from 2009-2012, and has also held positions at the Malmö Opera (2008-2011), Lahti Symphony, and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Swensen is a busy guest-conductor throughout the world (from Europe to the USA, Japan and Australia), enjoying long-established relationships with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, London Mozart Players, Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto Casa da Música and Orchestre National de Bordeaux Aquitaine.
As Principal Conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Joseph Swensen and the orchestra toured extensively in the US, UK, Europe and the Far East. They also performed together at the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York, Tanglewood and Ravinia Festivals, the BBC Proms, the Barbican and the Concertgebouw and recorded extensively for Linn Records. As Principal Conductor of the Malmö Opera in Sweden, Swensen was widely recognised as the driving force behind Malmö Opera's transformation into one of the most important opera companies in Sweden
In addition to his conducting engagements, Joseph Swensen has recently returned to the concert platform as a violin soloist. Before launching his conducting career in the mid-1990s, Swensen enjoyed a highly successful career as a violin soloist appearing frequently with the world’s major orchestras and important conductors. As an exclusive recording artist with BMG Classics his recordings of the Beethoven and Sibelius concerti in particular (with André Previn and Jukka-Pekka Saraste respectively) were well-received and influential. Recent performances include the Colorado Symphony and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Chamber music has always been an essential part of Swensen’s music-making; he regularly performs with the American pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane, and the piano trio KahaneSwensenBrey together with cellist Carter Brey.
The violinist and conductor naturally meet in the art of play-direct, and with a special interest in this, Swensen has extended the repertoire far beyond the classical period, directing from the violin concertos by composers including Brahms, Barber and Prokoviev with orchestras such as the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, London Mozart Players and Scottish Chamber Orchestra. His series of recordings for Linn Records featuring concertos by Brahms, Mendelssohn and Prokofiev with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra were internationally acclaimed. With the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, Swensen created the first ‘Paris Play-Direct Academy’ in May 2011. In 2015/16 Swensen will play-direct the Brahms violin concerto with both Orquesta Ciudad de Granada and the Northwest Sinfonietta.
A multifaceted musician, as a composer Joseph Swensen's works include Mantram (1998) for string orchestra, Latif (1999) for solo cello with chamber ensemble, Shizue (2001) for solo shakuhachi and orchestra, and the Sinfonia-Concertante for Horn and Orchestra (The Fire and the Rose) (2008). Swensen's orchestration of the rarely performed 1854 version of Brahms' Trio Op. 8, a work he has entitled Sinfonia in B, has been performed by orchestras in Europe and the US since its première in 2007. In 2012, the world première recording of Sinfonia in B was released on Signum records, along with orchestrations by Swensen of works originally for violin and piano by Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Brahms.
Joseph Swensen is Starling Professor of Music (violin) at Indiana University, Jacobs School of Music, an appointment building on a decades-long relationship between the Dorothy Richard Starling Foundation and the Jacobs School of Music. He has also been awarded an honorary doctorate from St. Andrew’s University, Scotland, and was invited to give a TedX Talk with the title “Habitats for Music and the Sound of Math,” about music education and the developing brain, at the New York Institute of Technology.
Joseph and Victoria Swensen are the founders of Habitat4Music, a non-profit organization devoted to establishing participatory music education programs for children in underserved areas world-wide.
An American of Norwegian and Japanese descent, Joseph Swensen was born in Hoboken, New Jersey and grew up in Harlem, New York City.
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