Henrik Jul Hansen, a conductor, pianist, professor and composer, died of cancer Oct. 20 at his home in Sacramento. The respected musical ambassador was 62.
Beginning in 1997, Jul Hansen was the popular conductor of the Sacramento Ballet Orchestra for all its “Nutcracker” performances through last year. He conducted many of the Sacramento Ballet’s live orchestra productions including its highly acclaimed “Carmina Burana” with chorus.
Jul Hansen founded the Gold Country Chamber Orchestra in 1998 (later the Capital Contemporary Chamber Orchestra), conducted several other regional orchestras, and taught at the University of California, Merced, from 2009 to 2013. He was especially remembered for his humility, effervesce and interest in other people.
“Music was his entire life,” said longtime friend and colleague Dyne Eifertsen. “Everything from teaching it, conducting, he was into it 100 percent.”
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Patricia Beach Smith, who often wrote about Jul Hansen while she was arts critic at The Sacramento Bee and later became a friend, was struck by “how personally he presented music.” Beach said Jul Hansen would warmly engage the audience, bringing them into the concert with stories about the composer and the era when the music was created.
“He wanted everybody to appreciate music as much as he did,” Smith said. She said his piano bench was stacked with music from a variety of genres.
“There was hip-hop, bebop, Beatles. He was fascinated with boogie and woogie, and played it. He was fascinated with Scott Joplin, ragtime and stride piano. Of course there was a lot of Bach and other stuff, too,” Smith said.
Jul Hansen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 25, 1954. He became interested in music as a child when his father introduced him to the music of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. He started piano lessons at age 5. Jul Hansen started conducting when he was 16. He subsequently studied at the Royal Danish Music Conservatory, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Before coming to the United States, he conducted the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1985 and was guest conductor at the Symphony Orchestra of the Royal (Danish) Academy of Music in 1987. He won several international awards, including a scholarship to study in the United States with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts in 1989. He debuted at Carnegie Hall the next year with a 94-piece orchestra he assembled from his time at Tanglewood.
In December 1996, he married Donna Pozzi of Sacramento, who then worked for the California parks department. They met on the telephone when he doing research on the composer Ferde Grofe, who had staged a famous concert at Death Valley.
“Singers loved working with Henrik because they felt he really supported them well because he understood singing. But I know the dancers at the ballet felt the same way, that he really understood dance and really supported them with the music also,” Pozzi said.
Jul Hansen is survived by his wife, Donna Pozzi; his mother, Vibeke Hansen, and brother Carl Johan Hansen, both in Denmark.
There are no services scheduled at this time. A memorial concert will be held in Jul Hansen’s honor in the spring.
Contributions can be made to the Henrik Jul Hansen Memorial Scholarship at UC Davis, which will assist undergraduate music students, online (give.ucdavis.edu) or by mail to UC Davis Advancement Services, 1460 Drew Ave., Suite 100, Davis, CA 95618. Checks should be made payable to the UC Davis Foundation, with the scholarship’s name designated on the memo line.