Dutch conductor receives prestigious award for his work as Music Director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Musical America, the foremost information resource on classical music in the United States, today named Jaap van Zweden as recipient of its Conductor of the Year Award 2012. The Dutch artist has been honoured for his critically acclaimed work as Music Director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and for the excellence of his music-making, both in Dallas and as a guest conductor with some of the country's most prestigious orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra.

He will be formally presented with the prestigious prize at Musical America’s annual pre-Christmas awards ceremony at New York’s Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center on 5 December 2011. Since the award’s inception in 1992, the roster of Conductor of the Year honorees has grown to include, among others, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Michael Tilson Thomas, Valery Gergiev, Sir Colin Davis, Osmo Vänskä and Marin Alsop.

“It is a tremendous honour for me to receive this prize from Musical America,” comments Jaap van Zweden. “I am excited about it for many reasons. Above all, I would like to express my gratitude to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for introducing me to the American audience. They have given me the chance to develop a relationship not only with audiences in Dallas but also with people across the nation. It is always special for me to perform with my wonderful orchestra in Dallas and as guest conductor in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles and New York. America truly feels like my other home.”

The 50-year-old musician’s association with the United States began in 1975 when he arrived in New York to study violin with Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School of Music. Van Zweden was subsequently appointed concertmaster of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the age of 19, the youngest ever in the organisation’s long history. He held the post until 1995, thereafter working as a violin soloist and conducting several chamber ensembles in the Netherlands.

In the fourteen years since van Zweden chose to pursue a full-time career as conductor, he has secured an international reputation for the searing conviction, refinement and depth of his music-making. In 2007, he was invited to become the Dallas Symphony’s Music Director following the success of his debut with the orchestra in 2006. The rapport initially engendered between conductor, orchestra and audience has grown since van Zweden took up the post at the start of the 2008-09 season, leading to the extension of his initial 4-year contract until the end of the 2015-16 season. In addition to his work in Dallas and, until this season’s end, as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, van Zweden continues to beguile audiences in Europe and the United States with outstanding performances as a guest conductor. The sensational success of his debuts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra prefaced invitations to conduct both organizations in their future seasons; he is meanwhile set to make his subscription season debuts with the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony in 2012. The conductor’s 2011-12 season diary also includes return visits to the Orchestre National de France, the St Louis Symphony, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Monte Carlo Philharmonic and London Philharmonic Orchestras.

Jaap van Zweden notes that his years as a member of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra delivered rich opportunities to learn at close quarters from many of the world’s greatest conductors, Bernard Haitink, Eugen Jochum, Sir Georg Solti and Leonard Bernstein among them. It was Bernstein who encouraged the violinist to learn the art of conducting. “Every rehearsal and performance with him was like a masterclass,” he recalls. “It was incredible to work with Lenny. He read my character and told me that conducting was a natural part of it. Lenny made me become a conductor and inspired me just at the right time.” Van Zweden adds that Bernstein taught him lasting lessons about the spiritual values of classical music and the importance of sharing the live performance experience with the broadest possible audience.

“It is so important that we give extraordinary experiences to our audiences,” he notes, “whether they have been coming to concerts for 50 years or are hearing an orchestral performance for the first time. I strongly believe that we need more than food to eat: we must have food for the soul. Art in general and classical music in particular provides that food for the soul. It has to be part of everybody’s life. We are seeing more young people and more people from ethnic minorities coming to Dallas Symphony concerts. This is really encouraging and shows that we can reach parts of society that have been missing from the classical concert audience.”

Jaap van Zweden observes how his Dallas musicians have been inspired by the sense of civic pride invested in their work. “And that in turn inspires me to work even harder and give my absolute best,” he says. “I believe the Dallas Symphony Orchestra has been re-energised. Commentators in the United States and beyond now recognise the quality of what we are doing. One of my goals was to stretch the orchestra and raise its standards to match those of the Big Five. I believe we have achieved that and know that we will work hard every day to retain this level. This great award from Musical America comes at a thrilling stage in the Dallas Symphony’s development.”

 

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