Dutch conductor: I get more support in Berlin than at home

Dutch conductor: I get more support in Berlin than at home


norman lebrecht

May 15, 2019

Gijs Leenaars, director of Berlin’s radio choir, caused a ruckus at his season launch yesterday at the Dutch Embassy in the city.

I feel, he said, ‘more supported in Berlin than in my own country,’ before renewing his contract for the next five years.

Leenaars, who works with all the Berlin orchestras, will direct the chorus at Kirill Petrenko’s inaugural concert with the Berlin Philharmonic and will give a festive performance of the Bruckner E minor Mass for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

He’s probably right. Berlin is the best place for an ambitious musician.


  • John Borstlap says:

    Holland suffers from a cultural inferiority complex, related to its low opinion of culture in general, and this self-fulfilling prophesy humiliates artists in the country and makes them leaving it when they can.

    • Talking the talk says:

      This is the same in many smaller countries where the collective attitude, unconscious or otherwise, of getting someone ‘other’ from abroad somehow makes the cultural establishment feel more validated & worthy. This judgement it appears is unencumbered by the problem of assessing talent.

      The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is a perfect example with it’s last two MD’s, Edo de Waart now being the present incumbent. Never a particularly interesting or compelling musician he’s now really seen better days. There are rare exceptions to this predicament but who knows how these happen given the relatively small horizons of the cultural decision makers of these countries.

  • William says:

    In Holland they try us to believe that we only have 2 conductors: Jan Willem de Vriend and Jaap van Zweden.

  • Mauricio Fernandez says:

    He’s certainly not the only one in recent times. Dutch governments in the last decades have systematically eroded cultural life in general and music in particular.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed. It is the result of populism and a misunderstanding of what democracy means.

      Like in the US, there is a cult of ignorance in Holland, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through its political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.


  • Thomas says:

    Gijs who?

  • Ira says:

    Gijs is a former student of mine, and indeed quite talented. It doesn’t surprise me that he feels more support in Berlin than in Holland, sad but true… after all the Dutch have a saying “Doe gewoon en doe je al gek genoeg” (“Just act normally and you’ll be crazy enough” by which they mean: don’t stick out above the norm whatever you do), sad.

    • John Borstlap says:


      In 2012, there was an anthropological research team from the Texas Institute for Technology who got wind of this unusual collective phenomenon, and who travelled through the Low Countries for interviews and investigations of cultural artefacts, talks with cultural influencers and the like. But they met much suspicion and after recurrent contestations like ‘Who do you think you are?’ and ‘Don’t get it into your head you’re more than me’, they were incarcerated in an asylum centre and after three weeks expelled (with force) from the country. As the team leader from TIT said: ‘Interestingly, the sheer suggestion that someone else might know something or can do something which would transcend the interviewee’s capacities, immediately triggered instinctive defense reactions, sometimes expressed with physical violence.’ Unfortunately, the project could not be finished due to insufficient material but the team concluded that further research of this collective neurosis could be helpful to understand the wider contexts of national inferiority complexes and phenomenae like the Stendhal Syndrome.

    • Gijs says:

      Best regards from Berlin, Ira! For the record, the context of the quoted statement is that I expressed my gratitude to the Dutch Embassy in Berlin, who’s team has been extremely supportive in the past 4 years. Doesn’t make the statement less true, though!