Jaap van Zweden to leave Philharmonic in spring of 2024

Thu Sep 16, 2021 at 10:19 am
Jaap van Zweden conducted the New York Philharmonic in music of Glass and Mahler Friday night at David Geffen Hall. Photo: Chris Lee

Jaap van Zweden will depart the New York Philharmonic after the 2023-24 season. File photo: Chris Lee

On the eve of the New York Philharmonic’s return to a regular concert season, music director Jaap van Zweden announced that he will leave the orchestra at the end of the 2023-24 season. 

Van Zweden, who began his tenure in 2018, announced his departure to the Philharmonic musicians after rehearsal on Wednesday. In a note to the musicians that was shared with New York magazine, the conductor explained that, “While I love the NY Philharmonic and look forward to continuing as Music Director over the next three seasons, so much has changed because of COVID, including thoughts about my own future, my life, and my family.”

The conductor elaborated on these thoughts to the New York Times, explaining that the pandemic experience (during which he contracted Covid-19), had isolated him in the Netherlands and away from the musicians for most of 18 months. But, said the conductor, it also gave him time with his family, and to compose, and to explore music away from the classical repertoire. 

Van Zweden began discussing his departure with Deborah Borda, the orchestra’s president and chief executive officer, in August. “It’s not out of frustration, it’s not out of anger, it’s not out of a difficult situation,” he told the Times, “it’s just out of freedom.” His other current contract with the Hong Kong Philharmonic also expires in 2024, and van Zweden offered no set plans or ideas for what he sees in his future.

The music director’s Philharmonic contract actually expires at the end of the 2022-2023 season, but van Zweden is extending his duties for an extra season to manage the music making as the orchestra navigates the completion of the David Geffen Hall renovation and undertakes a search for a new music director. That extra year means that van Zweden (now 60 years old) will match Pierre Boulez’s six years, making them the music directors with the briefest term with the organization.

But that also means far less music making than Boulez accomplished. With only one full season as the orchestra’s music director, there is insufficient experience to evaluate, so far, van Zweden’s legacy with the orchestra. His concerts have featured the expected high-level musicianship of the Philharmonic, as well as crisp, driving energy that is often exciting but can also overwhelm all other considerations. 

A fan of contemporary pop music, van Zweden has seemed comfortable with new music, presenting it with a feeling of personal interest and involvement. With the bulk of his service still ahead, perhaps his sense of freedom will give us an opportunity to see exactly what kind of musician he is.

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