Just in: Kennedy hires ex-Barbican chief

Deborah Rutter has appointed Robert van Leer as Senior Vice President of Artistic Planning at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., completing her top team.

Robert was head of music at London’s Barbican Centre for 15 years, managing a £6 million budget.

A joint US-Dutch national, he went on to become managing director of the Nederlands Dans Theater in The Hague in August 2011, before turning into an arts consultant. Kennedy desperately needs new creative thinking. Let’s hope’s he brings it.

robert van leer

press release:

(WASHINGTON)—The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts today announced Robert van Leer as Senior Vice President of Artistic Planning. The newly created and key artistic position will supervise a large team of creative artistic administrators, and will provide cross-organizational focus, collaboration, and inspiration to the Center’s interdisciplinary programming. Van Leer’s purview will include management of seven senior programming staff from various disciplines, as well as coordination with the artistic planning of the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington National Opera. Among several recent senior-level hires, this position completes Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter’s senior management team.

“As the nation’s performing arts center, I believe it is fundamentally important that the Kennedy Center exemplifies and champions a cohesive, powerful message on the role of the performing arts in our society,” commented Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter. “Robert brings a wealth of multidisciplinary arts experience and creative leadership to the table, and I am excited to partner with him and our creative curatorial team of administrators and artistic leaders to shape an artistic vision for the Center in the years to come. His commitment and innovative approach to the artistic endeavor will build and expand on our mission to provide innovative programming that reflects the core of John F. Kennedy’s legacy.”  

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  • This appointment sounds like it could be very interesting for the Kennedy Center and I agree that the place desperately needs some creative energizing. There was hope five years ago that the music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, Christoph Eschenbach, who was also appointed artistic director of the entire Kennedy Center, would have brought something new to the place. How wrong anybody was to believe that. Eschenbach did absolutely nothing to improve the Kennedy Center’s artistic outlook, actually quite the contrary, as he apparently only saw the job as a title and a way to extort more money for himself from donors and patrons, making himself the second highest paid music director in the world, with next to nothing to show for it. The National Symphony also didn’t improve very much and the programming remained stuck in a time warp, with programs that, more often than not, resembled something out of the 50’s or 60’s, so unadventurous they were. Now, with Eschenbach on his way out, fortunately, and this new nomination, I, along with so many regular concert goers, sincerely hope to see a revitalized and reenergized Kennedy Center and particularly a reenergized National Symphony Orchestra. These past five years have had an air of heaviness and sadness about them and the orchestra and the Washington audience deserve much better, starting with getting a music director who is engaged, both in the music and in the community. Eschenbach was neither in my opinion.

    • Actually the programming of the NSO is much more imaginative than many of the comparable orchestras. Many orchestras play the composer du jour (say John Adams) sandwiched between Beethoven and Brahms. The NSO plays a lot of music that has not been heard for many years. Yes, it is most by known composers (and some “cult favorites” such as Martinu) but there are discoveries. When is the last time one heard a symphony by Kurt Weill in concert – the NSO played the first a few years ago. Yes, there should be more contemporary music played int he NSO programs. Thankfully, next season more American music is played.

    • Matt, you need to separate the programs conducted by Maestro Eschenbach from the rest of the season. Indeed, almost all Eschenbach’s programs are rather dull and reminiscent of all those programs he has done in Philadelphia. Rightly so, the attendance of HIS concerts has been steadily dropping (I doubt any tears will be shed at his departure in 2017).

      However, the rest of the season is very imaginative and features a lot of contemporary music, new music, rarely heard music as well as an outstanding selection of soloists and conductors. Look at what other orchestras are doing – the NSO seasons (minus CE weeks) are amongst the top programming in the country!

      • I agree as far as your programming observations, with the caveat that Eschenbach has conducted rarities: Turangalila, and Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony are two things that come in my mind.

        But I do wish he would program Roussel’s 2nd Symphony for example.

  • The National Symphony is a disgrace but, in so being, is emblematic of what is happening on capital hill and in the white house. D.C. remains, in most ways, what it has always been: a very provincial city with very provincial values and no decent breakfast places. If van Leer can make a real difference at the Kennedy Center, he should receive a Nobel Prize. And then he should go on to become Commissioner of the National Football League, an organization every bit as awful and corrupt. I wish him every success—but his first task is to send Eschenbach packing. It may not be as easy a done deal as Matt expects.

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