Jaap van Zweden, the New York Philharmonic’s hard-charging music director, introduced on Wednesday that he would depart his submit on the finish of the 2023-24 season, saying that the pandemic had made him rethink his life and priorities.
Van Zweden, 60, mentioned in an interview that the upheaval of the pandemic had prompted him to rethink his relationship with the orchestra, which he has led since 2018, as properly as along with his household, which he not often obtained to see throughout his globe-trotting days earlier than the Covid disaster. He mentioned he felt it might be the precise second to transfer on, with the orchestra set to return to the newly renovated David Geffen Hall subsequent fall, a yr and a half forward of schedule.
“It is not out of frustration, it’s not out of anger, it’s not out of a difficult situation,” he mentioned. “It’s just out of freedom.”
His announcement comes as the Philharmonic faces a sequence of challenges which have solely grown extra sophisticated as it tries to recuperate from the pandemic: The orchestra is homeless this season, enjoying at venues across the metropolis whereas its longtime house is below development, and hopes to make a triumphal return to a remodeled corridor subsequent season.
Van Zweden’s tenure has not been with out criticism. While he has been praised for sustaining excessive inventive requirements, he has additionally confronted questions on whether or not he has the star energy and artistic vitality wanted to lead the Philharmonic, one of many world’s high ensembles, at a second of problem and alter.
The pandemic hit simply as he was settling into the job. He spent a lot of the previous 18 months within the Netherlands, his house nation, as Covid-19 swept by way of New York and the orchestra endured one of the crucial critical crises in its historical past.
Van Zweden’s six-year tenure would be the shortest of any Philharmonic music director since Pierre Boulez, the French composer and conductor who led the orchestra for six seasons within the 1970s. Van Zweden mentioned he had deliberate to depart in 2023, when his preliminary contract was set to expire. But Deborah Borda, the Philharmonic’s president and chief govt, persuaded him to add a yr to give the orchestra extra time to settle again into its corridor and to seek for a successor.
In an interview, Borda known as van Zweden a “tremendous partner” and mentioned she would work carefully with the orchestra’s gamers to discover a substitute.
“It’s a musician’s impeccable sense of timing,” she mentioned of van Zweden’s choice. “You just have to respect it.”
Van Zweden, finest identified for the symphonic requirements, has embraced new music and composers on the Philharmonic.Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
Van Zweden, whose identify is pronounced Yahp van ZVAY-den, got here to the Philharmonic from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the place he was credited with reviving a flagging ensemble. At one level he was America’s best-paid conductor, incomes greater than $5 million in a single season.
In New York, he nearly instantly confronted considerations that he could be too centered on the usual repertory as an alternative of championing new works. But with Borda as a companion, he made some extent of prominently that includes new composers and helped lead Project 19, an bold effort to fee works by ladies to mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment. Last yr, he performed the premiere of Tania León’s “Stride,” which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in Music.
Critics discovered themselves praising van Zweden’s adventurousness, whereas additionally saying his exuberance might get out of hand in typically blaring performances of symphonic requirements.
Anthony Tommasini, the chief classical music critic for The New York Times, lauded van Zweden’s embrace of recent music in a 2019 evaluate. “Mr. van Zweden has surprised me by championing these initiatives,” he wrote. “It’s in the standard repertory, which was supposed to be his selling point, that his record is more mixed.”
Then, in the course of his second season as music director, the pandemic hit. The orchestra was compelled to cancel greater than 100 live shows, together with its whole 2020-21 season, and impose painful price range cuts. It misplaced greater than $21 million in revenues.
Van Zweden described the pandemic as a private turning level. For months, he was remoted from the Philharmonic’s gamers, staying in contact solely through occasional Zoom calls. The cancellation of live shows and main excursions prevented him from persevering with to develop a rapport with the musicians, he mentioned.
“Building on a relationship as a music director with an orchestra is almost like a daily, hourly experience, and in this period of not being with them, you feel sometimes a little helpless that you cannot have this deep connection through music,” he mentioned. “That was all taken away.”
He additionally felt powerless as he watched the orchestra scale back its administrative workers by 40 % so as to survive.
“You feel like there is a lot of damage going on and you cannot do anything,” he mentioned. “A lot has happened and there is a lot of pain there.”
Freed from an intense performing schedule throughout lockdown within the Netherlands, van Zweden underwent one thing of a change. At one level, he contracted Covid. He started to deal with his well being, dropping about 70 kilos. He tried his hand at composing, and listened to extra well-liked music, together with Frank Sinatra, Van Halen and Lady Gaga.
He spent extra time along with his household, together with his spouse, father, youngsters and grandchildren. He additionally put new vitality into his basis, which is concentrated on utilizing music to assist households of youngsters with autism.
“It changed me as a person a lot,” he mentioned. “And when you are going through a very intense time as a person, your view is changing completely.”
A ban on European vacationers within the United States left van Zweden remoted from the orchestra: He was caught overseas whereas the Philharmonic launched into a sequence of pop-up live shows across the metropolis and grappled with questions on its future.
He lastly made it to New York in March to tape applications for the NYPhil+ subscription streaming service. But in April, when the Philharmonic returned, after 400 days, for its first indoor live performance earlier than a dwell viewers, he was absent. He mentioned he didn’t take the rostrum as a result of the live performance was initially scheduled to characteristic a visitor conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen.
“Any time I could have been here, I would have been here,” he mentioned. “Let that be clear.”
He and Borda spoke about his want to step down over the summer time, and he knowledgeable her of his choice in late August. He advised the orchestra’s gamers throughout a rehearsal on Wednesday afternoon upfront of their opening live performance on Friday.
Van Zweden mentioned he was not sure what he would do subsequent, however didn’t rule out main one other ensemble. His contract with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra can also be set to expire in 2024, at which level he says he’ll step down there, too.
He mentioned he didn’t envision pursuing the highest job on the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, which has been looking for a music director since 2018. Van Zweden, who can also be a violinist, obtained his begin at that eminent ensemble, which named him concertmaster when he was 19.
For now, he mentioned, he’s centered on the reopening of Geffen Hall, which is within the midst of a $550 million renovation. The Philharmonic accelerated the long-delayed renovation of the corridor through the pandemic. In the meantime, the orchestra will carry out at a wide range of different venues this season, together with Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall.
“It will be probably one of the highlights of my life to open this hall,” he mentioned. By staying on for what must be the brand new corridor’s first two seasons, he might be in a position to help acousticians as they fine-tune the house.
On Friday, he’ll open the brand new season at Tully with a live performance known as “From Silence to Celebration.” It will start with a efficiency of Anna Clyne’s “Within Her Arms,” an embracing work which van Zweden mentioned would have particular resonance amid the pandemic.
But he added that he didn’t but know what it might be like to return to dwell indoor performances with the Philharmonic.
“The experience is there,” he mentioned. “It will be weird, but it will be.”