Music Director designate (from 2024-25), Orchestre National de Bordeaux Aquitaine
Principal Guest Conductor, the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada
Principal Guest Conductor, NFM Leopoldinum Orchestra, Wrocław
Conductor Emeritus, Scottish Chamber orchestra
Characterised by the strength of the bonds forged through long-lasting and loyal relationships with numerous orchestras and their audiences, Joseph Swensen's activity as a conductor extends throughout Europe and beyond, without regard to geographical or cultural borders. Praised by critics in particular for his interpretations of the great romantic repertoire such as Mahler, Bruckner and Sibelius, he is also a musical explorer who ventures into much more experimental terrain when working with smaller ensembles, and whose programmes regularly include 21st century composers alongside works from the classical period.
The result of an exceptional musical encounter and a relationship that has developed over the last decade, Joseph Swensen will take up his new position as Music Director of the Orchestre National de Bordeaux Aquitaine at the start of the 2024-25 season. He is also Principal Guest Conductor of the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada in Spain, and from the 2023-24 season, at the conclusion of his six-year tenure as Artistic Director of the NFM Leopoldinum Orchestra in Wrocław, he will continue his collaboration there as Principal Guest Conductor. He also holds the title of Conductor Emeritus of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, of which he was Principal Conductor from 1996 to 2005. Joseph Swensen has previously held the positions of Principal Guest Conductor and Artistic Advisor to the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris (2009-2012), and Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (2000-2003). Active in the field of opera, he was also Music Director of the Malmö Opera (2005-2011), where he conducted productions including Salomé, La Bohème, La Traviata, Macbeth, Dialogues des Carmélites, Madame Butterfly, La Fanciulla del West and Vanessa. With his orchestras, he has toured extensively in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia, appearing, among others, at festivals and concert halls such as Tanglewood, Ravinia and Mostly Mozart in New York, the BBC Proms, the Barbican Hall and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. At the same time, Joseph Swensen appears as a guest-conductor with numerous orchestras, recent collaborations include the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Symphony Orchestra in Australia, Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse.
Before embarking on his conducting career in the mid-1990s, Joseph Swensen enjoyed a highly successful career as a violinist appearing with the world’s major orchestras and conductors and making a number of notable recordings including Beethoven violin concerto with André Prévin and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Sibelius violin concerto with Jukka-Pekka Saraste and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, both on BMG Classics. A pioneer of the art of play-direct, which he develpped during his tenure with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in the 1990’s, he created the first ‘Paris Play-Direct Academy’ in 2011 with the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris. Joseph Swensen extended the play-direct repertoire far beyond the classical period to include concertos by composers such as Brahms, Barber and Prokofiev. His series of recordings for Linn Records featuring Brahms, Mendelssohn and Prokofiev’s second concerto with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra were internationally acclaimed and recently republished as a box set.
A multifaceted musician, Joseph Swensen is an active composer and orchestrator. His orchestration of Prokofiev’s Five Songs Without Words (1920) is published by Boosey and Hawkes and Sinfonia in B (2007), recorded on Signum Classics His work also includes orchestrations of Nielsen G minor quartet, Four Movements for Orchestra (1888) as well as arrangements for string orchestras of Beethoven String Quartet op.59 and 131 and Debussy String Quartet, which he recorded with the NFM Leopoldinum. His original compositions include a set of three sinfoniettas, Shizue (1995) for solo shakuhachi and orchestra, dedicated to his aunt, a victim of the Hiroshima bombing, Langeland Reveries (2017), and Mahler in Manhattan (2018), premiered at the NFM Wroclaw (Poland) in June 2022. His most recent work Saga Trilogy, a set of three concertos for cello, viola (or clarinet) and double-bass was composed during the pandemic lockdown and explores the human condition and its relationship with space and time. Already acclaimed for his interpretations of late romantic repertoire, having completed cycles of Bruckner and Mahler symphonies, more recently Joseph Swensen focused his attention on Wagner; he created “The Ring Odyssey”, a musical journey through all four operas of the Ring Cycle in one evening for soprano, tenor and orchestra, the premiere of which took place in Toulouse in May 2023 to a rapturous reception by both the public and critics.
A sought-after pedagogue, Joseph Swensen has been visiting professor of conducting, violin and chamber music at the Royal Scottish Conservatory in Glasgow and at the Jacob Music School at Indiana University in the USA. An American of Norwegian and Japanese descent, he was born in Hoboken, New Jersey and grew up in Harlem, New York.