The Merced Symphony Association has announced the departure of its music director after more than a decade of directing the orchestra.
A press release from the association stated that Henrik Jul Hansen will take a “lengthy leave of absence.” The Merced Symphony board of directors will begin the search for a replacement immediately, according to the release.
The conductor came to the Merced Symphony in 1999 and played a large role in guiding it through the transformation from a community orchestra of volunteer musicians to a collection of paid musicians.
“Under Henrik’s dynamic leadership and personal warmth, the symphony has grown from a small community orchestra to a cadre of strong professional musicians who play at an extremely high level to a large and enthusiastic public,” Merced Symphony Association President Judy Smith said in the press release. “He will be greatly missed by all.”
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Hansen was not available for comment Friday. His publicist, Patricia Smith, said he plans to return but will be away from the symphony for six months to a year. “He’s taking a leave of absence for personal reasons,” she said.
Under his direction, the symphony has regularly played a wide variety of music, including popular movie themes, jazz and classical pieces for children from around Merced and Mariposa counties. Organizers estimate that more than 20,000 children and their parents have heard the orchestra through school programs.
According to Smith, Hansen was instrumental in connecting the symphony and the performance series Arts UC Merced Presents, which hosts concerts each year in Lakireddy Auditorium on campus. He has also taught at the university.
He developed a new relationship for the symphony with the renovation of Merced Theatre in downtown. The orchestra performed at the theater’s reopening in spring 2012 and in several shows afterward.
The conductor also made a point to bring music to foster children. “He really wants to inculcate a love of music, the whole emotion of what music can do for any person, young or old,” said Ann Andersen, vice president of the Merced Symphony Association.
Hansen, 59, was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and trained as a conductor at the Royal Danish Music Conservatory and its counterparts in Sweden and London.
He has been the head of the Sacramento-based Gold Country Chamber Orchestra for about 20 years. He also has worked recently with the Sacramento Ballet and many other music organizations.
The 57th season of the Merced Symphony begins in the fall.