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Jaap Van Zweden, Philharmonic Music Director, Moves on from New York to Seoul Orchestra

Korea Asia

Jaap Van Zweden is a celebrated music director whose term working for the New York Philharmonic will end in the summer of 2024. Van Zweden started working for the orchestra in September of 2018 and served as a music director for six consecutive seasons. Starting in January of 2024, he has committed to work for five years for the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. When asked about why he wanted to join the Seoul Philharmonic, Van Zweden answered that he wanted to revitalize the orchestra, similarly to what he did for the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. With Van Zweden’s leadership, the Hong Kong Philharmonic received the 2019 Orchestra of the Year award at the Gramophone Classical Music Awards. Additionally, he mentioned that his violin teacher, Hyo Kang, is Korean and that he still keeps close ties with him: through this relationship, he “learned from Kang’s work ethics and disciplines that have formed him as a musician.” Besides those influences, Van Zweden also finds Seoul's cultural landscape appealing - especially the art scene - and expressed his enthusiasm to involve himself in such a dynamic environment.

His opening concerts in Seoul in late January of 2024 were in collaboration with Yun–Chan Lim, 2022’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition winner. The sold-out concert attracted influential people to his performance, including former president of South Korea Lee Myung-bak and Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon. One critic wrote that “Zweden’s strong charisma and the explosive momentum of the orchestra shone.” During his tenure at the Seoul Philharmonic, Van Zweden intends to showcase Mahler's symphonies across the globe, beginning with Asia and then extending to the United States and Europe.

Van Zweden’s aim is to bolster Seoul Philharmonic’s reputation worldwide. Besides classical music, he wants to venture out to work together with other genres of music, like opera and ballet, that will lead to collaboration with diverse musicians and artists from South Korea. He aims to uncover and train talented musicians by facilitating programs and opportunities to do so. Seoul Philharmonic’s programming for 2024 is geared towards making classical music more accessible to those who may not be well-versed in it. In the long term, Van Zweden's vision for the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra will strengthen Asia’s musical landscape and increase connections between Asia and New York, Van Zweden’s long time home.

Tatiana Ostwalt is a Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington DC. She is currently a Master of International Affairs student at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, studying International Economic Policy, Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis, and East Asia.