When Kim Noltemy, the Dallas Symphony Association’s President and CEO, welcomed the audience to Wednesday evening’s open rehearsal of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, she announced a significant change to the program. Soprano soloist Lise Lindstrom would be replaced by Ellie Dehn, who was making her way to the Meyerson Symphony Center at that moment.
The last-minute change didn’t faze Jaap van Zweden as he made his way through a casually-dressed orchestra to the conductor’s podium to rehearse his final concert as Music Director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Van Zweden is leaving Dallas to become the 26th Music Director of the New York Philharmonic.
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The Amsterdam-born conductor made his debut appearance with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra on February 16, 2006, one year before being named the orchestra’s Music Director Designate. A decade since his first concert as the orchestra’s Music Director on September 10, 2008, van Zweden has conducted multiple world premieres including Conrad Tao’s The World is Very Different Now for the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, led the orchestra on a European tour and was named Musical America Conductor of the Year 2012. In 2015, he inaugurated the SOLUNA, an international music and arts festival.
Van Zweden’s most significant contribution to the development of the orchestra is his vigor and intense focus, transforming the sound of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra into something extraordinary.
“The passion and energy that Maestro van Zweden brings every time he steps on the podium are truly unmatched. His legacy is one of exciting and visceral performances, and of doing incredible work onstage and off to help advance the DSO and the whole arts community in Dallas,” Nathan Olson, Co-Concertmaster said, noting van Zweden will return to conduct Mahler’s Titan Symphony in 2019. “We look forward to the Maestro returning in future seasons to conduct the DSO!”
Beethoven’s choral symphony is a good match for van Zweden’s passion, boundless dynamism and attention to detail. During the open rehearsal, he indicated his musical intentions with a flick of his wrist or wiggle of his fingers. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” motive at the core of the Ninth Symphony is well-known, but van Zweden pulls the nuances out of the familiar phrases, making them more reflective of the emotions of the music.
The conductor stops rehearsal with a question for the Dallas Symphony Chorus, the all-volunteer official vocal ensemble of the orchestra. “Do you know what ‘freude’ means?” van Zweden demanded. “Joy!” a chorus member answered. “Can you express what you sing?” van Zweden implored. With that one direction, the chorus responds splendidly.
“Jaap van Zweden has raised the level of the orchestra significantly during his time at the DSO. The Symphony Chorus has also become a more powerful and responsive ensemble, and we are thrilled to be partnering with the DSO in Maestro van Zweden’s final concerts as Music Director. The theme of universal brotherhood espoused in Beethoven’s glorious symphony is one that our chorus firmly believes in and is an appropriately uplifting ending to this chapter in the history of the DSO,” Joshua Habermann, Director of the Dallas Symphony Chorus, said.
During the final movement, the chorus sways and the orchestra swells, reacting to both the power of the music and van Zweden’s jubilant dance of conducting. Van Zweden’s work of creating an ensemble expertly skilled to produce music beautifully is reflected as pure joy.
“There are great maestros and there are great orchestra builders – and there is Jaap van Zweden. His whole musical and professional life has been a personal pursuit of perfection. He is a phenomenal violinist and was concertmaster for many years of one of the world’s very great orchestras, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam. The choice of Jaap van Zweden as music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra some 12 years ago was a choice to dramatically change the inner energy of the orchestra and create a vibrant community of orchestral performers. Every musician onstage has an important voice in this, and all are encouraged by him to commit and engage, and to truly excel in what they do," Peter Czornyj, Vice President of Artistic Operations, said. "There are great orchestra builders and great maestros, and that is Jaap van Zweden.”
As van Zweden bids farewell to Dallas, he expresses admiration and gratitude for the Dallas arts community and the city that has been his adopted artistic home.
“During my time with the Dallas Symphony, we have created a family. At the end of a concert, the feeling throughout the orchestra is that together we have done something great,” van Zweden said. “And I also want to also say that this city has enormous strength. I am very proud that the people of Dallas have stood with us and believe in the future of this orchestra.”
In addition to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, this concert series features the world premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff’s Violin Concerto No. 2 from May 24-26 at the Meyerson Symphony Center.