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Jaap van Zweden Returns to Conduct S.F. Symphony

December 18, 2018

In the four short years since his debut with the San Francisco Symphony, Jaap van Zweden, 58, progressed from prominence to preeminence.

When he returns to Davies Hall to lead concerts Jan. 11-13, van Zweden’s resume will carry the titles of music director of both the New York Philharmonic and the Hong Kong Philharmonic. He is also believed to be the world’s highest-paid conductor, current undisclosed salaries added to the $5 million salary at the Dallas Symphony, which he led until last year.

Programs for van Zweden’s San Francisco concerts include Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 and Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major, with Carey Bell, S.F. Symphony principal clarinetist in the William R. and Gretchen B. Kimball Chair. Bell is replacing Eugene Izotov, who was originally scheduled to perform Mozart’s Oboe Concerto at these concerts; Izotov is currently on medical leave due to an injury.

Van Zweden has a special affection for the Bruckner, which he considers “a celebration of life,” in spite of it being called the “Tragic Symphony” by some, while Bruckner referred to it as the “Fantastic.” Acknowledging that Bruckner is “or was not very popular in the U.S.,” van Zweden hopes to help in changing that.

Especially appealing to the conductor is Bruckner “stretching melodies until you can hardly bear it; he keeps tension and intensity on a different level than any other composer.”

The current season marks van Zweden’s first as the 26th music director of the New York Philharmonic. He has held the Hong Kong Philharmonic post since 2012.

A fellow Dutchman, former S.F. Symphony Music Director Edo de Waart, headed the Hong Kong orchestra from 2004 to 2012; they also shared history at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, where de Waart was assistant conductor in the 1960s, while Amsterdam-born van Zweden became a concertmaster in 1979, at age 18, holding the position for almost two decades.

Van Zweden’s guest engagements this season include the Concertgebouw, S.F. Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, and Dallas Symphony Orchestra, where he is conductor laureate.

In his inaugural season in New York, van Zweden conducts repertoire ranging from five world premieres to symphonic cornerstones. He presides over three “season pillars” — each presenting a world premiere — that contextualize music through programs complemented by citywide collaborations.

“Music of Conscience” explores composers’ responses to the social issues of their time, with music by Beethoven, Shostakovich, John Corigliano, and David Lang. “New York Stories: Threads of Our City” looks at musical expressions of the immigrant experience in New York, with music by Julia Wolfe. “The Art of Andriessen” spotlights the music of Dutch composer Louis Andriessen.

Van Zweden began his conducting career in 1996. He remains honorary chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, where he was chief conductor from 2005 to 2013 and served as chief conductor of the Royal Flanders Orchestra from 2008 to 2011. He was named Musical America’s 2012 Conductor of the Year in recognition of his critically acclaimed work as music director of the Dallas Symphony and as guest conductor with the most prestigious U.S. orchestras.

In 1997, van Zweden and his wife, Aaltje, established the Papageno Foundation to support families of children with autism, such as their own. The story of how music was used in the upbringing of their son, Benjamin, 28, was the subject of a recent 60 Minutes segment.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].