In striking debut, New York Philharmonic maestro embraces new

New York (AFP) –


Opening his era in charge of the New York Philharmonic, Jaap van Zweden could not have been clearer that he welcomes fresh ideas.

The Dutch maestro started his tenure as the 26th music director of the leading US orchestra on Thursday with a bold statement -- the world premiere of a stirring experimental piece that challenges the physical restrictions of music.

"Filament," composed by 36-year-old Ashley Fure, is marked by haunting whispers from 15 "moving voices" -- a choir that circulates through the hall with megaphones, first on the balconies and finally in a meditative procession toward the orchestra.

Fure, an assistant professor at Dartmouth College who studies the relationship between music and motion, created a striking audial effect for the audience -- many in black-tie and cocktail dresses for a season-opening gala -- with the sound veering from remote and spatial to warm and intimate.

"Filament" also took in instrumentation that is highly unusual for the Philharmonic with a slew of objects to strike the percussion including beads, brushes and a toy ball.

Bassoon soloist Rebekah Heller performed from within the audience, holding her instrument like a guitar and slapping her tongue against the instrument's bocal tube with the double-reed removed.

Van Zweden followed "Filament" with more classic fare -- Ravel's "Piano Concerto in G Major," with star pianist Danil Trifanov bringing the second movement to a serene tranquility, and Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," followed by an unexpected encore of Wagner's crowd-pleasing "Ride of the Valkyries."

- 'Obligation' to new work -

Musical adventurousness was not the foremost trait expected of Van Zweden when the New York Philharmonic announced his appointment in 2016.

A violinist who while still a teenager rose to concertmaster of Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Van Zweden was predicted to be more interested in exacting performances of the classical canon than testing the frontiers of music.

But the 57-year-old, who has also led the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, said he felt a duty in his storied new position, where his predecessors include Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez and Gustav Mahler.

"I think that the New York Philharmonic is still a leading orchestra in the world in bringing new music. If you compare it to some European top orchestras, they are still very much ahead," Van Zweden told AFP ahead of opening night.

"At least we tried to make a healthy balance between the new works and old works, and the New York Philharmonic has an obligation, I think, and a great history of bringing new works," he said.

Van Zweden said he considered the leader in promoting new work to be the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the longtime home of the New York Philharmonic's new CEO Deborah Borda, who has quickly shored up the orchestra's long-uncertain finances.

- Broadening audience -

In a season full of new works, next week the Philharmonic will perform a new work by piano and violin prodigy Conrad Tao, which will transition immediately -- without giving time for crowd applause -- into Bruckner's explosive Symphony No. 8.

In a new feature for the Philharmonic, the 24-year-old Tao will follow his premiere with a smaller, late-night concert -- billed as featuring synthesizers and tap dancing -- over drinks.

Later in the season, the Philharmonic will offer $5 tickets to New York-based first responders and community workers in a bid to broaden the orchestra's reach.

Van Zweden has figured heavily in the Philharmonic's local push, with advertisements on the subway inviting the city to "Meet Jaap!," complete with photos of the conductor in a stylish scarf strolling the streets in front of an ever-present Manhattan steam pipe.

The Philharmonic did away with plans to tour the United States this season even though, Van Zweden said, "we are probably asked more than any other orchestra in the world to come and play."

Van Zweden said it was important to "first serve the public in your own town."

"I would say that from that solid base, if we can reach that, then we are going to travel again as much as this requires."