Friday, January 29, 2016

Jaap van Zweden Leaves Dallas for New York

My Facebook feed exploded the other day with the news that Jaap van Zweden, the highly esteemed conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, would be leaving Dallas to become the music director for the New York Philharmonic. As a Dallas-area musician who's attended many of Jaap's concerts and loves what he's done with the DSO, I had plenty of mixed feelings about the news.

It's not surprising of course--Jaap had long been considered a contender for the New York position, even if he was a bit of a dark horse. I knew that he had the chops for the job--he's an incredible conductor who's lead the DSO in some brilliant performances. His version of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony stands out in my mind as tight, intense, and deeply powerful. His performances of the traditional repertoire are exciting, but he's also supported new music. He conducted the world premier of Margaret Brouwer's viola concerto with the wonderful Ellen Rose as soloist (I studied with her at SMU), which I attended.

Jaap has helped to raise the standards of the DSO to National, and even International levels, but not without ruffling quite a few feathers along the way. He's known to be scrupulously honest, and often abrasive. He's had some conflicts with the musicians in the DSO, though all the musicians I know there deeply respect and admire him.
I'm happy for Jaap that he's gotten such a prestigious position, and I think his success reflects well on Dallas and on the DSO. But we'll miss him. It will be hard to find a conductor to fill Jaap's shoes, and match his achievements in the Dallas music scene. He's been a shot of energy and excitment, a rising star. We're lucky that he'll still be in Dallas for the 2016-2017 season, and won't leave permanently for New York until the following year.

Jaap's appointment reflects one of the difficulties that regional orchestras face in retaining talent. While exciting, up and coming musicians and conductors may get their start in regional orchestras, many of them head for more prestigious jobs once they've matured. It makes it difficult for those orchestras to develop and establish themselves the way more famous orchestras have. Hopefully, the DSO will find another amazing conductor--Jaap has laid the groundwork for his successor to carry on his legacy and help the DSO have even higher standards.

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