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Alum to Head N.Y. Phil

Jaap van Zweden will succeed Alan Gilbert as music director of the New York Philharmonic in the 2017-18 season.

 (Photo by Chris Lee)

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Juilliard alumnus Jaap van Zweden has been tapped by the New York Philharmonic to become its next music director, the orchestra announced on January 27. The 55-year-old Dutch conductor, who is the current music director of the Dallas Symphony and Hong Kong Philharmonic orchestras, will assume the post in New York beginning with the 2018-19 season; he’ll serve as music director designate during the 2017-18 season.

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Van Zweden (whose name is pronounced Yahp van ZVAY-den) succeeds Alan Gilbert (Pre-College ’85; MM ’94, orchestral conducting), who became music director of the Philharmonic in 2009. When Gilbert, who is Juilliard’s director of conducting and orchestral studies, announced his retirement from the orchestra last February, speculation was rife as to who would assume the post. Van Zweden will take over at a particularly demanding time—the orchestra’s home, David Geffen Hall, is to undergo a complete overhaul beginning in 2019, which will render the orchestra homeless, most likely for two seasons.

“This is one of the happiest and most fulfilling days of my life,” van Zweden said in a statement released by the orchestra. “To be asked by the great musicians of the New York Philharmonic and by the board of this iconic institution to be its music director is truly an honor. As musicians, we strive to achieve the best for our audiences in sharing the music of so many gifted composers of the past and present as we look to the future. My heart is full, and my family and I look forward to being true New Yorkers, as I was during my Juilliard days.”

Those days refer to 1978 to 1980, when he studied violin here with the renowned Dorothy DeLay (’42, violin; faculty 1948-2002); he also studied conducting. At 19, he became concertmaster of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. It wasn’t until van Zweden was in his 30s that he turned his attention to conducting, after Leonard Bernstein, who was guest conducting the Concertgebouw in Berlin, asked him to take the podium at a rehearsal so that Bernstein could listen from the audience. That serendipitous event set van Zweden on a course that eventually led to conducting appearances around the world, and, in 2008, he became music director in Dallas. He was named Musical America’s conductor of the year in 2012.

Van Zweden made his Philharmonic debut in 2012, conducting a program that included Mahler’s First Symphony and Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, with soloist Yuja Wang. Of that performance, The New York Times wrote: “From the dynamic, all-out performance he conducted, it seems clear that he came to town determined to make music and make an impression.” Evidently, he did.

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