Breaking: New York Philharmonic appoints the wrong music director

Breaking: New York Philharmonic appoints the wrong music director


norman lebrecht

January 27, 2016

The orchestra has named Jaap van Zweden, 55, as its next music director.

A Dutchman, van Zweden is presently music music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

A maestro of modest accomplishments, few would consider him among the foremost in his profession.

Few, except the ever-unready New York Philharmonic.

van zweeden

His appointment was announced at 9 am today by the Philharmonic’s president, Matthew Van Besien. The New York Times was briefed ahead of the rest of world media.

Van Zweden will succeed Alan Gilbert in 2018, cutting back his stay in Dallas by a year.

UPDATE: Why New York got it so wrong. Read here.



  • Cesare Civetta says:

    he is excellent!!!!!

  • Alvaro Gallegos says:

    Surprising choice! It would be interesting to know HOW they chose him, the process behind.

  • says:

    This is what they said about Masur. Jaap is a fine choice. He will find his way to accomplish his goals there.

  • Robert says:

    So how does that work when he has a contract through 2019 in Dallas? Do you suppose he did like the college football coaches do and have an exit clause in case the NFL comes calling?

  • Luk Vaes says:

    He was an amazing violinist when I first heard of him. His dynamic interpretation of the Brahms concerto is still vivid in my mind.

  • Jewelyard says:

    Norman, what you’ve written is horseshit. Jaap has risen to the forefront of conductors in a relatively short amount of time and is enormously respected by musicians wherever he conducts – I know this for a fact. He also is a terrific fundraiser; he has personally presided over the fundraising for numerous important projects and artistic endeavors in Dallas, as an example. Moreover, MUSICIANS of the NY Phil actually wanted him to get the job. As a musician Jaap has proven himself to be consistently of the highest order and, given his tenacious nature, will ably negotiate all of the challenges that the NY Phil is about to face. As much as I enjoy your blog, I am really surprised at how full of nonsense you are sometimes. You’ve missed the mark completely on this one. Congratulations to Jaap and the New York Phil – this is exactly how it was supposed to happen.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Entirely agreed with all of this comment. Van Zweden has the qualities of the great conducting personalities in classical music ever, and is the opposite of the rather bland, reverend performers who treat classical music as museum pieces.

    • Hans-Dieter Glaubke says:

      Excellent! Very little need be said additionally. Mr. Lebrecht is, and has been, a provocateur of the highest order. His shit stirring stick has even gotten longer.

  • Douglas Nasrawi says:

    Not even a little bitchy, Norm. Remind us where you have sung, played, conducted.

  • Eddie Fung says:

    He has completely transformed the HKPhil. His Wagner die walküre last week in Hong Kong was amazing.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Can hardly wait to hear a recording of it. His recent concertante Tristan in Amsterdam was stunning.

      • David Boxwell says:

        I’ll second the “amazing” verdict on the HK Rheingold recording. I hope he programs lots of Wagner when he’s in charge.

  • Robert McDuffie says:

    You will eat your words
    He is a great artist
    Bravo to the NY Phil
    Bernstein loved his artistry
    I trust Bernstein

  • SergioM says:

    Van Zweden is an excellent choice. His numerous appearances with the Chicago Symphony has proven that he is a suburb musician with real talent and virtuosity.

  • Eldar Nebolsin says:

    Fantastic and refreshing to read all these comments contradicting the very biased and uninformed article…

  • Emil Archambault says:

    Oh come on. This is pure, undiluted nonsense and gratuitous malice. It seems that even if the NY Phil had appointed God himself, you would have written a column about how that was a bad choice.

    Since you seem unaware of his work, let me suggest: “Van Zweden’s Bruckner is not monumental so much as yearningly expressive; its great paragraphs are not hewn from granite but carefully moulded to fit, and powered with an extraordinary dramatic energy.”

    “But conducting this imaginative and playing this varied don’t appear at Geffen Hall every week; both should be celebrated.”

    “In all, this recording marks another rung that van Zweden has climbed, and its best parts promise something special in the future. Short of that, he’s delivered an outstanding Mahler Fifth in a field crowded with great ones.”

    Of course, for this blog, any choice the NY Phil made would have been wrong.

  • Halldor says:

    “A maestro of modest accomplishments, few would consider him among the foremost in his profession.”

    Hey, they said that about Alan Gilbert.

    They still do.

    Van Zweden has actually done some pretty impressive work in Hong Kong. This might work well, though there’s always the possibility that he’ll be dragged down by New York’s innate musical conservatism. Still, important not to get too confuse wealthy orchestras with great ones. The NYPD is essentially a decent provincial band with a high profile, that’s inched towards excellence during the periods in its history when it’s taken a gamble on a music director. Let’s reserve judgment for now.

  • Qais Al-Awqati says:

    A friend of mine who is in a strng player told me that Jaap v Z is the orchestra’s choice because they loved the way he held them up to a higher standard of playing

  • Kirk says:

    This is exactly what he wanted and he has been systematically playing the political game behind the scenes in recent years to get this appointment. Congratulations!!

  • MichaelJ says:

    This is such an interesting discussion. I live in Amsterdam where Jaap van Zweden is a folk hero. Local boy made good. But it goes deeper than that. In Amsterdam he brought a very good band, the Dutch Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, to a very high level. No one who saw his concert performance of Lohengrin with Anne Schwanewilms and Klaus Florian Vogt will ever forget it, likewise his Parsifal, Rachmaninov Second Symphony etc. The question is whether he is a conductor who is brilliant at achieving great things with very good second division orchestras which, dare I say it, are still willing to improve themselves, or will he be brought to earth as chief conductor of so-called world class orchestras with their built-in arrogance. Which begs the question….. is the NYPO a world class orchestra?

    • John Borstlap says:

      It seems they have sunk a bit and longing for a boost, which is probably why they wanted JvZw. My suspicion is that both the players of the NY Phil and their new MD are cut from the same block which explains the chemistry in concert and their choice.

    • ML says:

      I cannot vouch for the chemistry between Zweden and NYPO, but I have always loved his concerts with the CSO and almost always have second helpings (i.e. adding another concert of the same program to my Thursday night subscription).

  • Philip Lingard says:

    Given the names making themselves unavailable, it was going to be an “unconventional” choice. I have only heard very good things about this conductor from fellow musicians and audience members.

  • bryan says:

    In the immortal words of Taylor Swift “a player has to play and a hater has to hate.” Guess which one you are Norman?

    • John Borstlap says:

      But music journalism has to stirr-up things now & then, and look what a support for JvZw has resulted from Norman’s attacks.

  • Richard says:

    I’m from Dallas, and we have all watched JVZ change the DSO from an enjoyable orchestra to one that creates stunningly beautiful music week after week, the electricity coming from the stage is palpable.I can assure you he will be greatly missed here, but I knew he would land in Chicago or NYC, I just hope,we find someone who can keep the orchestra elevated at such a high level. Congrats NY Phil

  • Michael says:

    What about the musician’s opinions? Let’s not asked the only people who know what they’re talking about when it comes to the choice of a MD.
    As for JVZ few musicians already left the Hong Kong Phil because of his abusive behaviour and lot of complains are coming from Dallas for the same reasons.

  • Bob says:

    The problem with classical musicians (an the orchestra’s board members) is that almost all of them are civilized Nerds. Jaap van Zweden isn’t. He’s a business man, a hustler, often a bully, a very hard worker and his willpower is unrivalled. This is how he managed to get to where is, in spite of his flaws as a conductor, of which there are many. I could go into detail, but there’s just no point. Jaap van Zweden is going to have all of us ‘sofisticated’ musicians and music lovers saying: “Wait..but….what??” and it’s only a matter of time before he brings the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to it’s knees as well, which has been his aim al along.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      This comment, from a well-informed Dutch musician, is painfully close to the reality.

    • John Borstlap says:

      To begin with, it is ‘sophisticated’ not ‘sofisticated’. As for ‘flaws’: with conducting, the only criterium is: does it function or not? i.e. does the score flower in the conductor’s hands? A score of great music holds more possibilities of performance and interpretation than can be realised in one rendering, with the result that great conductors are, without exception, excentics without routine. Given the muddy waters of classical music life today with its intrigues, hypocrisy, incompetence, political in-fighting, money problems, repertoire-mongers, cultivated jealousy and back-stabbing, real music making has to be protected by brilliantly-gifted, stubborn, willful, strong-headed personalities.

      Any musically-perceptive listener – and people who know the scores – who has experienced Van Zweden’s Parsifal, Tristan, or Brucker performances, simply surrenders, as do the players if they are wise.

      • John Borstlap says:

        PS: To correct some mis-information: JvZw will never take-on the KCO because he does not need them.

      • Bob says:

        Hi John,

        Last things first:
        Please tell me that you have something substantial to back up your statement that “JvZw will never take-on the KCO”. Please tell me that you’re not just saying that. (O, and while we’re at it: I don’t think ‘to take on’ needs a hyphen, but you’re the language expert here. 😉 )

        I’m also not sure what you mean by “great conductors are, without exception, excentrics without routine”. Because in whatever way I turn that phrase, it doesn’t apply to any great conductor I know of, nor does it apply to van Zweden. Please explain.

        I agree with you that music and the music business require strong musical personalities of which there are far too few nowadays, and there’s no denying that Jaap van Zweden has a strong personality; too bad it’s just not a very musical one.

        • John Borstlap says:

          1) From an inside reliable source which I cannot disclose.

          2) That has been phrased indeed too casually. I meant: when a conductor studies a score, he will specifically emotionally identify with those aspects of the music which he recognizes in himself, and his way of communicating this to the players will therefore be all the more subjective where an authentic personality is involved; this is often perceived as quite unusual or excentic, like Furtwängler’s shivering or Kleiber’s ballet pantomimes or Bernstein’s ‘crucifixions’ (standing with wide-opened arms at climaxes). These people don’t do routine and ‘correct technique’. JvZw is, by the way, remarkably clear to his players.

          3) I find this last comment very hard to square with what I have seen and heard:

          • Bob says:

            I would say that the personality of the composer is present in all of his/her work and that great things happen when a conductor’s personality somehow connects with that of the composer through music. Wagner’s narcissism and his manic creative energy constantly ooze through all of his music, and therefore I’m not surprised van Zweden can give a satisfying reading of his works, or of Bruckner’s for that matter.
            When a composer requires a bigger palette however, I feel that van Zweden has little more to offer other than his relentless energy. For you this might be sufficient and I envy you for it, because I cannot listen to his performances without being distracted by the thundering emptiness behind it all. The 7th Beethoven you shared is a tragedy from a technical standpoint, by the way. Routine technique or not, to loose your way in front of professional musicians like that is deeply embarrassing, even if the musicians do make it to the end unharmed (because they know the piece by heart).

          • Bob says:

            And please, do not mistake van Zweden’s inability to give proper cues in a 6/8 bar (at 5.43) for Furtwänglers very conscious artistic decision to conduct with an unclear beat.

  • Daniel F. says:

    Saw and heard JvZ with the National Symphony a few years ago and was entirely underwhelmed by a concert with music by Johann Wagenaar, Beethoven, and Tchaikowsky. Surprised me because so many people had written positively about his various appearances (as they do on this blog too). The only conductor I’ve heard with the NYP at Geffen Hall who was able to get around the acoustical nightmare was Thomas Ades, but after the next “renovation” JvZ won’t have to deal with that. (Hah! Szell was right: they should have torn it down and started over.)

    Vladimir Jurowski, so talented and so articulate and thoughtful, has now been passed up by Boston and New York. Can anyone tell me WHY?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Maybe the National Symphony was not the kind of orchestra where Van Zweden’s qualities could be realised.

    • Alex says:

      I saw Jurowski at Tanglewood a few seasons ago doing Brahms 1. He didn’t know the score!!! The orchestra saved him numerous times in every movement. I was shocked as he smiled every as time the BSO corrected him in performance. Maybe that is the type of thing that put off the NYPO.

      • John Borstlap says:

        It shows that even conductors are human. I remember a (very bad) performance of Beethoven IX under Bruno Maderna who had his head in the score all the time and obviously found it strange and entirely puzzling music.

  • Janek Schergen says:

    Jaap van Zweden is an extraordinary artist and musician. He does not have the “big name” flamboyance of others because he is first and foremost someone who respects music, composers and players and not an imitation of the concept of a conductor.

  • Teacher says:

    Here is a musician who worked for several years with Jaap. I am very proud to have worked with him. For many years in different orchestras. Before he had his career as a conductor, he was a great violinist and I had some lessons with him. He is a very good teacher, he observed me during my playing and during the lesson, I started to play better. As a conductor he sees and hears everything. So , if you were not prepared, ofcourse you had a problem! He inspired me during all the rehearsels and concerts I played with him. For me , , as we in Holland say: the circle is round: he studied at Julliard, at the age of 16, all alone and completely unknown. And now he is back, as a conductor. If I have time and money, I will go to NY,sit in the audience and will think to myself: I am proud of Jaap!!
    PS: excuse my English