Van Zweeden under attack for private oligarch concert

Van Zweeden under attack for private oligarch concert


norman lebrecht

August 20, 2015

The Hong Kong Phil is back in the limelight, again for the wrong reasons.

Local politicians want to know why the orchestra gave a private concert on tour in the Amsterdam home of a Dutch billionaire’s wife, Gert-Jan Kramer. The couple are close friends of HK’s busy music director, Jaap van Zweeden.

The HK Phil receives half its funding from the HK government. It’s not a rich man’s toy.

Report here.

van zweeden1


  • John Borstlap says:

    This is a great orchestra, building its goodwill and range of possibilities, also in Europe. Given the financial limitations reigning in Europe in these times, such activities are investments for future tours and projects…. It is a sign of entrepreneurial initiative which can only benefit the orchestra, and nobody looses by it. Suspicions are probably merely the result of ideological misapprehensions by politicians who feel the breath of Bejing in their neck (thinking of the recent political unrest in HK). Van Zweden, who has also carried the Dallas Symphony Orchestra to great heights, and seems to be very good at building relationships with sponsors, has experience with the American way of safeguarding orchestral budgets. If the HK Phil gets half of its budget from the government, there is still the other half of funding to raise. The conductor’s experience in these matters is a great asset and not a reason for ‘suspicions’. I don’t think the HK Phil had a public concert in Amsterdam on their last tour; if they want to perform in the Concertgebouw next time, relationships with potential sponsors may be of crucial importance.

    • Nick says:

      I don’t believe this has anything to do with Beijing or those cosying up to Beijing. It seems just another storm in Hong Kong’s political teacup, given the fractious relationships between legislators of different political stripes. They will seize on anything that grabs public attention whatever the underlying reasons. The Hong Kong orchestra has always been subsidised mostly by the tax payer. In return the HK government has had representatives and appointed representatives on its Board who presumably did not voice any dissent when the decision about the private concert was taken. Since the article claims the Board approved the concert well in advance, clearly James To is using the legislative assembly to carry on his own little personal feud.

      Also, the orchestra’s CEO states a contract was signed. To me implies that all the costs were covered by the billionaire. Since he has also in the past provided the orchestra with instruments (according to the article), someone should do a little profit and loss exercise. No doubt it will prove the income from that one event will be well in excess of every iota of expenditure.

      In just a few seasons van Zweden has developed the orchestra into a world class ensemble. He was happy to renew his contract years before the first one expired. Recently a few disgruntled factions in Hong Kong are having a go at him. This is typical Hong Kong. Hopefully he will pay no attention.

  • Suzanne says:

    Hong Kong Phiharmonic would be better off without bully van Zweden at the helm. Here’s hoping he moves on and lets a fine orchestra develop without scheduling private party performances for wealthy friends.

    • MWnyc says:

      If the wealthy friends are paying the orchestra’s full fee and expenses, I can’t see what the problem is.

      If the orchestra were to begin playing so many private concerts that they had to reduce public concerts for lack of time, then there would be a problem. I’m pretty sure the Hong Kong Phil is not at that point just now.

  • harold braun says:

    Hilariously hypocritical post.Beethoven,Mozart,Liszt,Casals,Bernstein,Horowitz et al.also gave private recitals.So what?

    • John Borstlap says:

      ‘Worse’, Beethoven played and composed almost entirely for the Viennese aristocracy, who by funding him preserved a body of repertoire for the future that is now at the core of music life.

      • V.Lind says:

        If a rich man engaged the Orchestra and paid it to perform, surely that is revenue the HK Phil — and every orchestra in the world I can think of — can use?

        Many artists do private engagements. There are decreasing numbers of recitals in private homes, but they used to be part of the social round in high society, and I am sure SD would be the first to object if the musicians were not paid. Given that there was a contract, it would seem to be so.

        This seems to me a creative way to establish the reputation of the HK Phil among some discerning folk in Europe — at a guess most of the guests were pretty well-to-do, from cultured circles. Perhaps not exposed to HK Phil before, and disinclined to try it because it was previously not known to them. Or perhaps there is some relationship already open between the Dutch conductor and the host…in any case, a potential donor base has been opened up, and a potential audience that probably has useful word-of-mouth connections (at least) has been met.

        Not keen on the use of the word “oligarch” here. Mr. Kramer is a wealthy businessman, all as far as I know legitimate businesses. While literally perhaps grammatically acceptable, the word carries a connotation these days of London Russians with extremely shady antecedents who have achieved obscene amounts of money from very dodgy activities. One does not see other ‘journalists” applying it to people indiscriminately just because they are rich.

        The suggestion in the headline is that the HK Phil is like the sort of celebrity who is private-jetted to central Asia to play at some ghastly dictator’s birthday — or even just attend it — for ridiculously inflated fees. What has this wonderful group done to ge ton your spite list?

  • Michael MacLeod, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra says:

    The person who engaged the HK Phil to play in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam paid a full fee that covered not only the HK Phil’s normal “hire-out” fee but also all hotel costs, per diems for all the musicians, transport of the instruments, ground transport for the musicians and a pro rata share of the airfares.

    Not one single penny of Government subsidy was used to pay for any part of this concert.

    The Kramers are tremendously generous benefactors of the arts, and as a friend of theirs, Jaap performed for no fee.

    In accepting the engagement, the HK Phil did not contravene any Government regulations or HK Phil Society guidelines.

    It is not unusual for major orchestras the world over to occasionally give private concerts.

    Less than 60% of the HK Phil’s annual income comes from the Government. For the remaining 40+%, the Government recognises that the HK Phil, which is not a Government organisation, needs to raise income from other appropriate sources.

  • Emil Archambault says:

    Spelling of names, again. Please pay attention: It’s Jaap van Zweden.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Be happy that there is some counter balance against William Osborne.

  • Brian from Washington says:

    Tempest in a teapot. A few years ago you could buy from the Nieman Marcus catalog a private concert in your hometown with Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra for a measly $1.5 million or so.