Meet Daniel Orsen: The SPCO’s newest violist

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s viola section grows this season with the appointment of Daniel Orsen 

Among those looking forward to welcoming the SPCO’s newest string player is Principal Viola Maiya Papach. “His musical curiosity and interests align perfectly with the SPCO’s repertoire and I am thrilled to have him join the viola section of the SPCO,” she said. 

“This is a dream job for me, and a long time coming. I’ve had my sights set on this since the fall of 2019,” Daniel said. “Each member of the orchestra has a high degree of agency and responsibility, which makes this ensemble so excellent and unique.” 

Daniel’s enchantment with music has been ever-present, even from a young age. With two Lutheran pastors for parents, he discovered his inner musician in worship services on annual trips to week-long, church sponsored mission gatherings in other countries. 

It was during one such experience that his music journey started. “When I was three, the Global Mission Event was in Puerto Rico,” Daniel recalled. “My parents bought me a pair of finger cymbals, and the band members saw me playing along in the crowd and invited me up on stage. Year after year, they kept inviting me up on stage, and eventually I was just part of the band for the whole week. Their percussionist, Tony Machado, who is still a pastor in the Twin Cities area, really took me under his wing.” 

Finding the viola came seven years later. By then, he had already started and quit piano lessons; started percussion lessons (with greater success); and developed dreams of composing, conducting and becoming a timpanist. “I picked up the viola in my third-grade public school music program,” he said. “I chose the viola because almost everybody else was choosing the violin or the cello, and I wanted to be different. I think it stuck because of (1) the Beethoven quartets and (2) I am perhaps sympatico with the macabre, impish, self-deprecating nature of the instrument.” 

A native of the East Coast, Daniel studied viola under members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Credo, and the Perlman Music Program before enrolling at Oberlin Conservatory and New England Conservatory. Additionally, he has performed with A Far Cry, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Fermata Chamber Soloists, and Norway’s Arctic Philharmonic. 

After an SPCO opening weekend including two of Daniel’s ultimate favorites (Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella) he is eager to perform as soloist in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola this week and meet the SPCO’s newly appointed Artistic Partner (and fellow violist) Tabea Zimmermann later in the season. 

“In addition to the music making, I’m looking forward to living in Saint Paul because I have family roots in Minnesota,” Daniel said. “I love cross-country skiing, and as a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, it will be nice living in Central Time, where prime-time NFL games end at a reasonable hour.”