When Van met Zweden

When Van met Zweden


norman lebrecht

January 17, 2019

The New York Philharmonic chief has given an interview to the irreverent, provocative Van magazine.

Unfortunately, it’s the softest interview Van has ever published. This may be the most challenging question:


I think the audience is always on our mind and in our heart. Without them we do not exist. So it’s a part of my score with the audience. But of course if you want to reach different audiences that are not so familiar with us you need to bring some other music and you need to give, especially in Phil the Hall concerts, a blueprint of this orchestra and its history.

C’mon, guys.

Read here.


  • Karl says:

    I liked this question: “Should there be more booing and scandals at classical music concerts?” I wonder if he’s really completely happy with that, or just saying that.

    • John Borstlap says:

      VAN is a rather vulgar magazine for simpletons, who think that sitting quietly and concentrating is somehow inferior to baseball games which are so much more lively.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    We get it: Van Zweden can do no right, according to this blog.

  • Cantantelirico says:

    For $5,000.000 a year for 10 years, I’ll tell you the audience matters too.

  • The world is still waiting for the New York Phil to publicly address the firing to two prominent musicians last year, and why it was only done eight years after horrific rumored allegations began to arise about them. When something that allegedly serious occurs in an orchestra, silence is irresponsible.

    • guest says:

      I don’t think they’ve even told us why the long-time Principal Horn, Phil Myers, was fired a couple years ago. I was one of those people who listened to the NYP largely to hear Myers’ horn playing (one of the only things exciting about the ensemble these days) and for him to disappear without a word is very disheartening and I have rarely listened to the NYP since (now they are even more bland). When the Principal Trumpet left in 2014, there was all sorts of celebrations of his career in the NYP. Myers had just as long of a career and was even a more creative musician than Smith but we haven’t gotten anything.

  • anon says:

    The news, the excitement, is at the Met.

    What do you do when you aren’t even the premier arts organisation in your own home, where you sit on the side to your next door neighbor, who sits front and center as the crown jewel of Lincoln Center?

    When the NYT doesn’t even bother to review all your concerts? And when it does, it doesn’t bother to send its chief music critic?

    When every NY critic is breathlessly enthralled with every move made by that guy from Philadelphia (a recent NYT article follows Nézet-Séguin to his favorite bar in the West Village)?

    I guess you settle for Van’s inane questions.

  • anon von anon says:

    Is the van in van Zweden the same as the von in von Karajan, made up aristocracy?

    • John Borstlap says:

      No, in Dutch ‘van’ refers to a locality. Probably a couple of ages ago someone came from Sweden and settled in the Dutch Republic, which was a big draw in the 17th century for immigrants, always being an immigration country.

      The same, for instance, with Ludwig van Beethoven: his ‘van’ referred to a little place in Flanders where his grandfather came from. Yet, Beethoven liked to keep the impression of nobility alive, until he was caught-out during a court case about his nephew.

      I don’t know about Von Karajan, the German ‘von’ is indeed a sign of nobility, in Germany only people of noble birth could sport the little linguistic accolade. But Karajan was an Austrian, and after the founding of the Austrian republic just after WW I nobility was simply cancelled and nobody was allowed to claim its status.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Van Zweden does not want to apply criteria ‘a priory’ but follows his musical intuition, in a world where everybody only wants to grasp concrete labels, which are all on the outside.

  • Frank says:

    The NY Times has basically come around to Van Zweden, despite some grumbling about his interpretations being too loud or forceful. Since he added that avant-garde/ conceptual piece by Ashley Fure in his opening concert, the critics there have begun to see him as more of a Euro-modernist, no longer shackled by the conservatism of Dallas. But as far as moving the orchestra forward in fresh directions, Borda looks to be the more influential figure there.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That Ashley Fure piece was a replica, a ‘style imitation’ one could say, of what was thought of as ‘avantgarde’ in the fifties and sixties. So, it is a form of ‘conservatism’. The reason people still think such exercises are something of a ‘new idea’, is that all that stuff from the postwar period has been played once or – exceptionally – twice and then forgotten. Thus it is heard as for the first time, like people with dementia experience everything for the first and only time.