Bernstein anoints new conductor of the New York Philharmonic

Bernstein anoints new conductor of the New York Philharmonic


norman lebrecht

January 31, 2016

A photograph of Leonard Bernstein with his arm around the young Jaap Van Zweden has begun to circulate online, suggesting – sometimes none-too-subtly – that Lenny picked his successor from beyond the grave.

bernstein van zweden

The picture was taken at the 1985 Holland Festival, when Van Zweden was concertmaster of the Concertgebouworkest. Let’s not take this too seriously.

Here are some others whom Lenny seems to have anointed.

bernstein michael jackson

leonard bernstein marin alsop

Bernstein1974 mtt



  • Sergey says:

    Between Jackson and MTT who is she?

  • herrera says:

    1) The question is, of those he anointed, with whom did he sleep?

    2) On another note, according to certain informed observers, van Zweden has profound Jewish roots with Bernstein, and his appointment to the NY Phil bodes well for the Jewish community and for the Philharmonic

    • John says:

      Oh, that’s such an important question.

    • La Verita says:

      Are you saying that being Jewish a requirement for an NYPO music director? Indeed, many NYPO board members are Jewish, and recently some NYPO guest conductors & soloists who were clearly less than front-rank were Jewish, but to suggest that the NYPO is (or should be) favoring any particular tribe is offensive.

      • cherrera says:

        I’m not saying anything, I didn’t write the article.

        The facts are that Mahler was Jewish, as was Bernstein and Maazel. David Geffen, as in he who endowed David Geffen Hall, is Jewish.

        Across the plaza from the Philharmonic, James Levine heads the Met.

        Downtown from the Philharmonic, Isaac Stern saved Carnegie Hall from being torn down when Lincoln Center was built.

        So on the artistic as well as financial sides, the Jewish community is vital in the NY arts and culture scenes.

        • Roberto says:

          Mahler was not Jew. His ancestors religious background has no importance for him. The second symphony is definitely not Jewish. The third and fourth are almost pagan. There is almost nothing Jewish in his music. Maybe the second movement of the fifth…

          • Daniel Kurganov says:

            1st symphony? An entire klezmer movement. To say that he was not a Jew just displays misunderstanding of what a Jew is, and of the history of Jewish people

          • Peter says:

            The only real real Jews are those of orthodox faith. The others… well it’s difficult.

          • Kenneth Wood says:

            [redacted] the resurrection in symphony no. 2 has nothing to do with Jesus.

        • La Verita says:

          Yes, and the list of non-Jews who have been vital to the NYC arts scene is even longer. So, no need to single out any particular tribe – it’s music-loving, musically gifted human beings who support the arts, period. And, NYC’s concert halls should feature artists for their talent, rather than for their tribal affiliations. (The dominance by the Kosher Nostra over the last 40 years or so has been noticed by the press).

    • All Keyed Up says:

      It’s common knowledge that Bernstein and MTT practiced the horizontal hora.

  • Carmen says:

    I would like to contribute this historic video to the conversation on Maestro van Zweden’s background.

    • John Borstlap says:

      An awful video indeed…. That is what he occasionally did, back then in pre-conducting years, when in Holland there was a short-lived trend to make classical music ‘accessible’ to the young, who did in general not show any interest in their own culture, just as now. Very juvenile to bring this up. (What about your own nappies?)

      • Iain Scott says:

        What’s not to like about that youtube clip?

      • Anon2 says:

        A little pompous aren’t we, John? I like the video because it’s proof that famous conductors, aren’t just born into the spotlight. They work their way up from the bottom, just like everyone else, and some of the projects they’re involved as young musicians might be more artistically worthwhile than others. NYPhil conductors are not born Gods.

        It’s also interesting because the video is a collaboration with the pioneering Dutch flautist Berdien Stenberg, one of the 1st classical artists to bring classical music into a popular music video format.

        • John Borstlap says:

          The awfulness is not in the intention, but in the result. Those experiments did not work, for the simple reason that what ‘youngsters’ are led to believe is classical music, is not true: when they, after long and deliberate hesitation, find themselves lured into a real concert, the first thing they will miss is the beat section and will feel deprived and cheated.

          In bringing this up as ‘background’ of a conductor, is just silly….

          The German musicologist Holger Noltze has recently written a book about this problem: ‘Die Leichtigkeitslüge’, the lie of something being easy.

          • Anon2 says:

            I’m afraid you sound more pompous than ever, John. And arrogant and elititist to boot.

            By refusing to acknowledge all aspects of a musician’s past you are putting blinders on and perhaps missing the best part.

            So many great musicians “cross over” and in doing so bring classical music to wider audiences. Granted in the UK you are of a population that generally raises its collective elitist eyebrows at such ventures but van Zweden’s new job is not in the UK or Europe at all for that matter. It’s in the US and this is how we roll.

            Would you refuse to acknowledge also that Yo Yo Ma has appeared on Sesame Street, that Sir James Galway was a huge success on the Johnny Carson talk show, that Joshua Bell played on the primetime tv show Dancing with the Stars or that Gustavo Dudamel recently did a cameo on the series “Mozart In the Jungle”?

            Why even in Europe the great Austrian multi-percussionist Martin Grubinger reached a tv audience of millions playing Mahler as the headline act for last year’s Eurovision competition!

            All of these projects, whether you like it or not, Mr. John Borstlap, bring classical music to a wider audience and without a doubt are an integral part of each musician’s professional background. We are educating ourselves now about the NY Phil’s new music director. This is part of the process. Like many other internationally known musicians Mr. van Zweden has tried to “bring music to the masses”. It’s silly and ignorant of you to try to deny this as part of his past.

            Go back to your ivory tower and converse with yourself in German, Mr. Bortslap. Incontinent, senile old men also wear nappies and yours are showing, I’m afraid.

          • Rob L. says:

            One can see why this person remains anonymous. A troll who remains out of sight.

          • Jaybuyer says:

            The US is lucky to have had Jackie Evancho. Just imagine the millions of her adoring fans who, upon repeatedly listening to her childlike rendition of ‘O mio babino caro’ and ‘Nessun dorma’, are rushing to fill symphony concerts – or even opera houses, after someone has revealed to them that these ‘tunes’ are actually parts of operas.

          • Anon2 says:

            Jaybuyer, but not even Jackie Evancho can hold a candle to Charlotte Church! Or Paul Potts. Or what about that remarkable English opera singer named Katherine Jenkins?

            People in glass houses. . . 😉

          • Holly Golightly says:

            Oh how I wish I could read enough German to get into that article!!!

            And your comments are apposite. It was John Kennedy who, when speaking about putting a man on the moon, said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”, These echo my own feeling about art music. We love it because it’s hard.

        • John Borstlap says:

          What’s so awful about it? There is no drum kit under it.

        • Talking the talk says:

          Well, a migraine is the effect of both videos had on me which may explain why these half remembered lines of Blake’s began reverberating in my head.

          …The best lack all conviction, while the worst
          Are full of passionate intensity.

          …And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
          Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

          Maybe they could also be the relevant in a good many MD appointments in the recent past.

          • Talking the talk says:

            Please excuse me, the migraines effects have temporarily caused confusion over poets and their poems, Yeats, not Blake.

  • Petros LInardos says:

    If a Bernstein hug were an anointment, the waiting list for higher positions would have grown out of control.

  • herrera says:

    If van Zweden were heir to anyone, it’d be Solti — same precise, driving intensity of interpretation, same style of angular physical conducting, even same bald pate — and he would’ve been a better fit with Chicago, whose musicians take instinctively to his style.

    But fit and need are two different things. What the NY Phil needs at this point is a little of Solti’s discipline married to its instinctive Bernsteinian exuberance.

    • Holly Golightly says:

      Hear hear!!

    • Talking the talk says:

      Further proof – if any were needed- that we all effectively live on our own spinning planets where reality is whatever we choose it to be.

    • Rob L. says:

      Can an orchestra, an ensemble of a hundred or so musicians, have instincts, especially instincts attributed to a conductor gone for more than a quarter century when this comment was posted?

    • Rob L. says:

      Can an orchestra — an ensemble of a hundred or so not constant members — have an instinct, especially an instinct attributed to a conductor gone for more than twenty-five years when this comment was posted?

  • Respect says:

    In case one hadn’t noted in the last thirty years, every maestro or singer wannabe in the United States lists themselves as a Bernstein protégé based on those hugs. There must be thousands of them.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It’s really rather surprising wat ANON2 has to say above, because it should be clear I was referring to the music, not to the intention ‘to bring music to the masses’. If classical musicians ‘do’ TV shows, play pop, or whatever thing they think will raise interest in classical music, and they do not distort the music, that’s fine, although I think it should be obvious that ‘bringing classical music to the masses’ won’t work if this music is distorted in the process. It seems much better to try to bring ‘the masses to classical music’, i.e. lower the treshold, provide good and attractive eduction, but NOT distort the music upon which the whole enterprise is built. Breaking-down a musical culture by making it more palatable is just the opposite of what seems to be needed to transfer classical music to next generations; if you distort the thing to be transferred, in the end nothing is left.

    And to call the defence of the integrity of the art form ‘elitist’ is missing the point altogether. I am for elitism for everybody…. i.e. all people excelling in things contribute to the whole community, like surgeons, lawyers, scientists etc. It is a result of egalitarian thinking to assume that excellence is somehow bad if found in the cultural field.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      Excellent post, John.

    • Mark Henriksen says:


    • Holly Golightly says:

      He’s been sucking on the Cool Aid of cultural marxism. Ignore.

    • cherrera says:

      But “distortion” is a slippery concept, and it implies “purity” which is a very dangerous concept.

      1) Is it “distortion” when Bach reused his best tunes in other pieces for other instrumentation for other occasions? So Bach recognized that a good tune is important and appealing. Who’s to say if Bach lived today, he would not re-orchestrate his melodies to modern instrumentation, which yes, includes electronic beat boxes.

      2) Is it distortion when baroque music is played on modern metal violin strings, modern metal flutes, tuned to 440, harpsichord pieces played on a Steinway? Or when Beethoven’s metronome markings are ignored and his symphonies slowed down and blown up to Furtwangler proportions because that’s what 1940’s Romantic and nationalist sensibilities demanded?

      And when we touch on Furtwangler and Beethoven, it inevitably touches on who gets to dictate what is pure and authentic German music, and how the Nazis distorted everything in the name of that purity.

      3) Is it “distortion” when classical music stations only play single movements of a piece, or when singers give recitals of only single arias from operas, usually the “prettiest” pieces? A lot of people know Turandot only from Nessun Dorma, or Tristan only from the Liebestodt.

      4) Is it “distortion” of one does not wish to sit through the entire 5 hours of Tristan sung in a language one does not understand (and in many cases, not even the translated supertitles when one is travelling)?

      Classical music is not about suffering through “hardness”. The best classical composers knew that it was about accessibility. Mozart wanted Germans to understand his Magic Flute sung in their own language rather than in the foreign Italian the masses don’t understand.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Agreed that the best classical composers wanted their music to be accessible, but not to any price. Not necessary to elaborate on that.

        There exists something like ‘Werktreue’, that is: being loyal to the work at hand. That is in itself already quite a complex notion, no need to elaborate, there is a discussion going-on in academia on that subject for decennia. But willfully adding or deleting things which can be considered important parts of the score, is a slippery slope resulting in erosion. Pieces have an aesthetic aura which is all of their own, and, for instance, Mengelberg’s rendering of the Matthäus Passion is unbearable, not only for its deformation of the original – while keeping to the notes – but for its misunderstanding of the style of the work, which was normal at the time because of lack of information and focussing on effect on the audience. There are pianists trying to play Boulez’ piano sonatas with Chopinesque ‘expression’, which results in a perverse squeezing of random fragments into some framework that isn’t there, while PB himself has clearly expostulated that he never strove after ‘expression’ but after patterns of pure sound and their ‘poetry’. You see… it’s not a simple question.

        1) ‘Beat boxes’ are not ‘contemporary’ but belong to a genre, entirely different from serious art music, the same with electronics. The baroque practice of changing instrumentation was part of the style, no general conclusions can be drawn from this. There is a difference between another version of the piece and a distortion: pieces can be arranged, re-assembled etc. but then there is another name attached to it. Distortion is a willful diminishing of the original. Who is to say it is ‘diminishing’? Only experience can tell, what matters is the intention.

        2) Interpretation is a flexible territory where Werktreue is, with the best interpreters, the point of departure, however different the results may be with different performers. No serious performer wants to mess with the score, which leaves enough space for personal interpretation anyway. Music has an abstract quality which survives in other instrumentations, but again, Werktreue demands to remain close to what we can conclude as original intentions… a matter of mentality.

        3) Performing fragments is not distortion because the music itself is presented, as we hope, in its original form. Wagner conducted chunks from his operas for concert performances, rewriting endings to have the music make sense in that form. No distortion.

        4) I don’t understand why someone would want to sit through Tristan if he does not like it. We should never listen to our wife in these matters.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The interesting thing about Slipped Disc is, that all kinds of ideas and opinions that live in the minds of many music lovers, become visible, instead of remaining indoors surrounded by social taboos and fears of embarrassment. It appears that even in classical music life, there are people out there wanting to cut musicians down to size, get them down from the platform, deny brilliant musicians their contribution to the art form, etc. etc. and especially, indulge in blatant populism. Musicians like Bernstein and v Zweden can relate to audiences, or people outside classical music, in a most humane and basic way, which is just admirable, but they never confuse this with the high standards required by the art form. Bernstein’s music lectures on TV were wonderful, we should have such things again, but he never added a beat box to his Mahler to make his point. In Dallas, JvZw is capable to relate to the entire community, which contributes to the orchestra being rooted locally, but that does not in any way diminish the orchestra’s standards. The one can exist in harmony with the other.

    • Anon2 says:

      You are talking in circles, John. I called you out because you berated someone who posted a dated video of van Zweden popularizing Bach. You accused that contributor of “wearing nappies”.

      No one was confusing JVZ’s Bach video with his high standards as an artist. As you’ve just said yourself about great artists who present classical music in a wide–reaching format “The one can exist in harmony with the other.”

      End of discussion. We are both right. I have a life, a very active musical one and I am going back to it now.

  • Holly Golightly says:

    Bernstein and MTT look super cool in those outfits!! Who ever said the classical music world was dull and conservative??? Phooey.

  • Eric says:

    I think it’s an overreach to say this photo suggests Lenny’s “anointing.” But, it’s wonderful to see this brief moment captured.

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    I heard Bernstein with the Concertgebouworkest in Mahler 4 in 1987, van Zweeden played the violin solo in the 2nd movement.