Jaap van Zweden to Step Down as New York Philharmonic’s Maestro

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The conductor will step down after the 2023-24 season, citing a re-evaluation of his priorities during the pandemic and a desire to spend more time with his family.

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York Philharmonic’s hard-charging music director Jaap van Zweden announced on Wednesday that he would step down at the end of the 2023-24 season, saying the pandemic had forced him to rethink his life and priorities.


Van Zweiden, 60, said in an interview that the upheaval of the pandemic prompted him to reconsider his relationship with the orchestra, which he has led since 2018, as well as with his family, who see him in his Globe. Rarely seen during – a few days before the covid crisis. He said he felt it would be the right time to move on, with the orchestra set to return to the renovated David Geffen Hall a year and a half before David Geffen Hall was scheduled for the next fall.

“It’s not out of frustration, it’s not out of anger, it’s not out of a difficult situation,” he said. “It’s just out of freedom.”

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His announcement comes as the Philharmonic faces a series of challenges that have only gotten more complicated as it tries to recover from the pandemic: the orchestra is homeless this season, playing at venues around the city, while Its longtime home is under construction, and is expected to make a triumphant return to the converted hall next season.

Van Zweiden’s tenure was not without criticism. While he has been praised for maintaining high artistic standards, he has also faced the question of whether he had the star needed to lead the Philharmonic, one of the world’s top artists, in a moment of challenge and change. Power and creative energy.

As he was settling into the job, the pandemic struck. He spent much of the past 18 months in his home country of the Netherlands, as Covid-19 swept New York and the orchestra faced one of the most serious crises in its history.

Van Zweden’s six-year tenure would be the shortest of any Philharmonic music director since Pierre Boulez, the French composer and conductor who led the orchestra for six seasons in the 1970s. Van Zweiden said he planned to leave in 2023, when his initial contract was due to expire. But Deborah Borda, president and chief executive of the Philharmonic, persuaded the orchestra to add a year to give it more time to settle back in its hall and search for a successor.

In an interview, Borda called van Zweiden a “tremendous partner” and said she would work closely with the orchestra’s players to find a replacement.

“It’s a musician’s impeccable sense of timing,” she said of Van Zweden’s decision. “You just have to respect that.”

Van Zweden, nicknamed Yahup van Zwe-Den, came to the Philharmonic from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, where he was credited with reviving a flagging ensemble. At one point he was America’s highest-paid conductor, earning over $5 million a season.

In New York, he was faced with concerns almost immediately that he would focus too much on standard repertory instead of advocating new works. But with Borda as a partner, she introduced new musicians to a prominence and helped lead Project 19, an ambitious effort to create works by women to mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment. Last year, he hosted the premiere of Tania Leone’s “Stride,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in Music.

Critics found themselves praising Van Zweiden’s courage, while also noting that his enthusiasm could get out of hand in his sometimes dazzling performances of symphonic standards.

Anthony Tomasini, Chief Classical Music Critic, praised Van Zweden’s adoption of new music in his 2019 review. “Mr. van Zweiden has surprised me by supporting these initiatives,” he wrote. “It is in the standard repertory, which was considered his selling point, that his record is more mixed.”

Then, in the middle of his second season as music director, the pandemic hit. The orchestra was forced to cancel more than 100 concerts and make painful budget cuts, including its entire 2020-21 season. It lost more than $21 million in revenue.

Van Zweden described the pandemic as a personal turning point. For months, he remained isolated from the Philharmonic’s players, keeping in touch only through the occasional Zoom call. He said the cancellation of concerts and major tours prevented him from developing a rapport with musicians.

“Building a relationship with an orchestra as a music director is almost like a daily, hour-long experience, and in this period of not being with them, you sometimes feel a little helpless that it’s your way through the music. There cannot be a deeper connection,” he said. . “It was all taken away.”

He also felt powerless as he saw the orchestra reduce its administrative staff by 40 percent in order to survive.

“You feel like a lot of damage is being done and you can’t do anything,” he said. “A lot has happened and there is a lot of pain.”

Freed from an intense performance program during the lockdown in the Netherlands, van Zweiden made some changes. At one point, he contracted Covid. He began focusing on his health, losing about 70 pounds. He tried his hand at composing, listening to more popular music, including those by Frank Sinatra, Van Halen and Lady Gaga.

He spent more time with his family including his wife, father, children and grandchildren. He also poured new energy into his foundation, which focuses on using music to help families of children with autism.

“It changed me a lot as a person,” he said. “And when you’re going through a very intense time as a person, your perspective is completely changing.”

The ban on European travelers to the United States alienated Van Zweden from the orchestra: he was stranded abroad, while the Philharmonic began a series of pop-up concerts around the city and grappled with questions about its future. Were were

He eventually appeared on the NYPhil+ in March. arrived in New York to tape the programs of subscription streaming service. But in April, when the Philharmonic returned for its first indoor concert in front of a live audience after 400 days, he was absent. He stated that he did not take the stage because the concert was originally scheduled to feature a guest conductor, Asa-Pekka Salonen.

“Whenever I was here, I would be here,” he said. “Let it be clear.”

He and Borda talked about his desire to step down over the summer, and he informed her of his decision in late August. He told the orchestra players during a rehearsal Wednesday afternoon before their inaugural concert on Friday.

Van Zweden said he wasn’t sure what he would do next, but he didn’t rule out leading another ensemble. His contract with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra is also due to expire in 2024, at which point he says he will step down there as well.

He said he did not envision pursuing a top job at the Royal Concertgebou Orchestra in Amsterdam, which has been seeking a music director since 2018. Van Zweden, who is also a violinist, made his debut in the eminent ensemble that gave him the name of the concert. When he was 19 years old.

For now, he said, he’s focused on reopening Geffen Hall, which is in the midst of a $550 million renovation. The Philharmonic accelerated the hall’s long-delayed renovation during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the orchestra will perform at several other venues this season, including Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall.

“The opening of this hall will probably be one of the highlights of my life,” he said. By making up for what should be Hall’s first two seasons, he’ll be able to assist the acousticians as they fix up the space.

On Friday, he will begin the session with a concert at Tully’s titled “From Silence to Celebration.” It will begin with Anna Klein’s performance of “In Her Arms,” ​​an embracing work that van Zweden said would have special resonance amid the pandemic.

But he said he didn’t yet know what it would be like to return to live indoor performances with the Philharmonic.

“The experience is there,” he said. “It will be strange, but it will happen.”

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