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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Diamonds Are Forever

Jaap van Zweden is the Philharmonic’s next music director.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jaap van Zweden is the 26th music director of the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Hans van der Woerd for the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.
At last there is white smoke coming from David Geffen Hall. In a press conference Wednesday morning, the New York Philharmonic announced that Jaap van Zweden would become the orchestra’s next music director, succeeding Alan Gilbert at the helm of America’s oldest professional symphony orchestra. He will be the 26th music director in the orchestra’s illustrious 174-year history.



This announcement put an end to a year-long search begin when Mr. Gilbert stepped down in February of 2016. Mr. van Zweden was introduced by Oscar Schaefer, the chairman of the Philharmonic board and executive director Matthew van Besien.

The Dutch conductor has been a frequent guest with the orchestra in recent years, conducting muscular readings of Mahler, Shostakovich and Beethoven to generally good reviews. He was chosen from a field of candidates that gradually narrowed to three, according to a recent article in the New York Times. Other candidates included current Philharmonic composer-in-residence Esa-Pekka Salonen and current Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra music director Manfred Honeck

Mr. van Zweden (his name is pronounced "van zhvay-den")  will steer through the orchestra through its transition to a temporary home during the upcoming gut renovation of David Geffen Hall. Trained at Juilliard, he became concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the age of 19 selected for the post by the legendary Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink. Mr. van Zweden led that orchestra through a similar, difficult period when its historic Amsterdam home threatened to collapse.

He said: “This is the biggest box of diamonds ever, and every conductor has the task to shape these diamonds and let them shine. This is talent for talent the greatest orchestra in the world and I cannot wait to start with them.” He will serve as Music Director Designate in 2017-18 and formally begin a five-year contract in the 2018-19 season.

At the press conference, Mr. van Zweden told a story about how Leonard Bernstein picked him to conduct the Concertgebouw in Berlin at a rehearsal performance of Mahler’s First Symphony. “He said, 'You're going to conduct, I want to hear the orchestra in the hall.' I said, 'No!' Afterwards he said ‘That was pretty bad, but I heard something there. I want you to take this seriously.'”

After 20 years in the concertmaster’s chair. Mr. van Zweden moved to the podium in 1995. He has served music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for five years. He will vacate that post a year before the end of his contract due to his new responsibilities. He also serves as music director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, and will deal with a 16-hour commute between his two positions in the coming years.

“The decision took me one second!” he declared. “Any conductor offered this position would be crazy not to take this because this is the center of the world. I think that this orchestra is so inspiring for any conductor who sets foot upon this stage.”

He will steer through the orchestra through its transition to a temporary home during the upcoming gut renovation of David Geffen Hall. Trained at Juilliard, he became concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the age of 19 selected for the post by the legendary Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink. Mr. van Zweden led that orchestra through a similar, difficult period when its historic Amsterdam home threatened to collapse.

“I come at this from a different angle,” he added. “This is ,y 18th season conducting so I haven’t been in front of an orchestra for as long (as some others.”) “You have to honor the fact that when I move my hand, you don’t hear anything. They make the music.”

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.