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Classical music

HKPhil music director Jaap van Zweden’s contract extended until 2022

The conductor’s vision for the orchestra in the years beyond 2019 will include more opera

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 June, 2016, 8:47pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 1:13pm

Hong Kong Philharmonic music director Jaap van Zweden signed a new extension of his contract today, which will add three years, from 2019 to 2022. He will also serve as music director-designate of the New York Philharmonic in the 2017-18 season before taking over from incumbent Alan Gilbert in the 2018-19 season, and so will be leading both ensembles at the same time.

Van Zweden said, “[the orchestra and I] have a great marriage. We think it is an excellent time to be in Hong Kong. I am very excited to be here today to sign this new contract.”

Van Zweden has conducted the top orchestras in the United States, including the Chicago Symphony and the Cleveland and Philadelphia orchestras; and in Europe, including the London Symphony and the Munich, Berlin and Vienna philharmonics. He was named Musical America Conductor of the Year in 2012.

“A lot of people are really thrilled to have Jaap continue on,” said trombone player Jarod Vermette, a 20-year veteran of the ensemble. “I feel it’s the best relationship we have had with a music director. Jaap gets a lot of respect.”

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Van Zweden will be knitting together three continents with his trademark musical intensity. Asked how he feels about the longer stint, he said, “It feels very natural, especially because we are on a curve of getting the orchestra on the highest level. Also to enjoy the flowers from all the seeds we put into the ground. I’m talking about real freedom on stage. Real freedom on stage is not something you get, but something you earn.”

His vision for the orchestra in the years beyond 2019 will include more opera. “With the Ring Cycle we did something very special. We are becoming a fantastic opera orchestra,” he said. One possibility is to add Italian bel canto operas to the repertoire. Also on the agenda is more tours abroad, including to the US and Australia. In New York, he predicts that his choice of repertoire will surprise those who consider him mainly an exponent of Central European classics.

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Despite his demanding, hard-working style, van Zweden has had more than one lucky encounter at turning points in his career. He started the violin at the age of six, went on to study at the Juilliard School, and then, “When Amsterdam’s storied Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra lost a soloist to a last-minute cancellation during a tour of Mexico City, he was invited to play,” which led to his post as concertmaster at the age of 19, according to the New York Times.

The moment that triggered his switch from violin to conducting was when Leonard Bernstein asked him to conduct the Concertgebouw during a rehearsal. Van Zweden told the SCMP in 2014, “I had never conducted at the time. But to say no to him was…you better not.”