Dutch conductor to lead New York Philharmonic

Conductor Jaap van Zweden will guide the orchestra through the renovation of its hall and two seasons without a home.
Conductor Jaap van Zweden will guide the orchestra through the renovation of its hall and two seasons without a home. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

The new music director, Jaap van Zweden, says he wants to play more contemporary music

NEW YORK • The New York Philharmonic announced on Wednesday that it was turning to Jaap van Zweden, an intense, exacting Dutch conductor, to be its next music director and guide it through the costly renovation of its hall, two seasons of exile and, if all goes well, a triumphant return to Lincoln Center.

The appointment of van Zweden (pronounced Yahp van Zvay-den), 55, who is music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, ends nearly a year of speculation about who would succeed Alan Gilbert when he steps down from the position next year.

Van Zweden will be the orchestra's public face as it works to raise US$360 million (S$513 million) to renovate David Geffen Hall and to bolster its endowment; act as the leading artistic voice as the hall is redesigned; and be charged with making sure the orchestra retains its audience when construction, slated to start in 2019, leaves it homeless for at least two seasons.

"It's a challenging time, but it is also a time where I would say that there's an incredible amount of possibilities," he said.

His guest appearances with the Philharmonic have produced exciting concerts. The New York Times praised his "dynamic, all-out performance" of Mahler's First Symphony (at his debut in 2012) and his "visceral, bristling" account of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8.

While his vision for the Philharmonic is not yet clear, he is less associated with contemporary composers than Gilbert, suggesting a possible shift of emphasis.

Gilbert, who has led the orchestra since 2009, was praised for championing new works, but drew criticism for his work in Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms - the so-called standard repertory, which van Zweden is known for delivering crackling performances.

But van Zweden said he looked forward to playing more contemporary music at the Philharmonic, adding that, in his days leading the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, he conducted world premieres every week or two.

"It was a fantastic time, to work with composers who are still alive," he said, adding that he enjoyed the ability to ask for their input on how pieces should be played. "It's a luxury I think we should treasure as conductors because, you know, you cannot go back to Mahler or to Beethoven or Mozart."

Last month, he conducted the premiere of Magnus Lindberg's Second Violin Concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Next season, he will lead the New York Philharmonic in the New York premiere of a viola concerto by the young composer Julia Adolphe.

Van Zweden will become the Philharmonic's music director designate in the 2017-18 season and begin his five-year contract as music director in the 2018-19 season which, if all goes according to plan, will be the Philharmonic's last season in Geffen Hall before construction begins.

Mr Oscar S. Schafer, chairman of the Philharmonic's board - who gave it a US$25-million gift this autumn with his wife, Didi - said van Zweden would be a partner in the orchestra's fund-raising and its champion when it was forced from its home, as well as a good artistic fit.

"When we were looking for a new music director, I was trying to get the gestalt of what makes a good music director," Mr Schafer said. "And really, the music director makes the orchestra play better than they normally play. And that's what he can do."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'Dutch conductor to lead New York Philharmonic'. Print Edition | Subscribe