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Seoul Philharmonic's new music director van Zweden to focus on Mahler, collaborations

Dutch conductor aims to raise orchestra's quality to top level, nurture talented new musicians

By Park Ga-young

Published : Nov. 20, 2023 - 17:22

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Jaap van Zweden, the new music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, poses for a photo during a press conference held at The Plaza Seoul in Jung-gu, central Seoul on Monday. (SPO) Jaap van Zweden, the new music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, poses for a photo during a press conference held at The Plaza Seoul in Jung-gu, central Seoul on Monday. (SPO)

The full Mahler cycle, collaborations with diverse genres and arts groups as well as fostering talented new musicians -- especially conductors -- will take center stage at the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, which will kick off its first season with music director Jaap van Zweden.

Beyond that, the new music director and the orchestra will strive to raise quality to the top level, which, according to van Zweden, is “the best promotion for an orchestra.”

“The weeks that I was here, they proved to me that they are in the circle of great orchestras. Now we have to prove every day, every hour, every minute that we are,” he said during a press conference on Monday. “You get that by preparation, discipline and enjoying.”

Next season will feature familiar pieces that the music director and orchestra can experience together.

For instance, the SPO is set to present a number of well-known symphonies in 2024: Mahler Symphony No. 1, Beethoven No. 5, Brahms No. 2, Mozart No. 40, Bruckner No. 7, Shostakovich No. 7 and Dvorak No. 7 and No. 8.

The piano concertos it will perform include: Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor," Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 and Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23 and No. 24, among others. In the violin concerto category, beloved pieces by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Sibelius and Bruch will be performed. As for cello concertos, famous works by Dvorak and Elgar are scheduled.

Jaap van Zweden, the new music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, (right) and SPO CEO Son Eun-kyung pose for photos during a press conference held at The Plaza Seoul in Jung-gu, central Seoul on Monday. (SPO) Jaap van Zweden, the new music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, (right) and SPO CEO Son Eun-kyung pose for photos during a press conference held at The Plaza Seoul in Jung-gu, central Seoul on Monday. (SPO)

Since his appointment in January this year, the 62-year-old maestro has taken to the stage with the orchestra four times, but his first official concert as music director will take place when he takes to the stage with Korean piano sensation Lim Yun-chan for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 on Jan. 25 at the Seoul Arts Center and Jan. 26 at Lotte Concert Hall.

“Yun-chan is a new star, a young man who is going to be one of the greatest pianists. In fact, he already is…It’s important to recognize the Korean star,” he said.

The January concerts will also mark the beginning of the full cycle of Gustav Mahler’s music, as the orchestra is set to present the Austro-Bohemian Romantic composer’s Symphony No. 1. In addition to performing the full cycle, van Zweden said he plans to record the entire Mahler cycle.

What this means is that the SPO will have to perform at least two Mahler works each year during van Zweden's five-year tenure.

The music director said he will focus on collaboration and fostering talented new musicians will be also part of his focus as the SPO’s music director.

Van Zweden said it is extremely important to collaborate with other arts groups like opera, ballet companies and conservatories, and Korea’s talented musicians, not only from classical music.

The Dutch conductor and violinist said that it is his responsibility to foster talent in this country and said he will work closely with talented young conductors by introducing conducting programs similar to the Gstaad Conducting Academy.

Jaap van Zweden, the new music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, (right) talks during a press conference held at The Plaza Seoul in Jung-gu, central Seoul on Monday. (SPO) Jaap van Zweden, the new music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, (right) talks during a press conference held at The Plaza Seoul in Jung-gu, central Seoul on Monday. (SPO)

Starting from 2024, the orchestra will embark on international tours to build its reputation, which is another focus for the conductor. The orchestra is in the process of planning tours in Asia for 2024, the US in 2025 and Europe in 2026.

Out of 16 programs, the music director will lead seven programs while the other nine programs will be conducted by top maestros, including Russian-British conductor Vasily Eduardovich Petrenko, Finnish conductor and violinist Jukka-Pekka Saraste and South Korean conductor Kim Eun-sun.

The SPO's programming for 2024 will also be a great introduction to those who are not familiar with classical music, according to SPO CEO Son Eun-kyung, and will feature renowned soloists including German violinist Christian Tetzlaff and Italian-German-American violinist Augustin Hadelich, British pianist Stephen Hough, South Korean violinist Clara-Jumi Kang and pianist Son Yeol-eum.