Going Dutch with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Feb 12 2010 By Christopher Morley
Conductor Jaap van Zweden chats with Christopher Morley ahead of a visit from the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.
Mention the name Hilversum to anyone of a certain age and they will go all misty-eyed and start talking about the good old days of steam radio.
While we waited for those valve-engorged wooden-cased mains-connected monsters to warm up (sometimes you had to thump them on the side) a good way of passing the time was to look at all the exotic names of faraway radio stations from foreign parts on the dial: Tromso, Stavanger, Monte Carlo. Beromunster and indeed Hilversum.
This charming little Dutch town to the south of Amsterdam is still an important broadcasting and media hub, home as it is to the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and several other broadcasting ensembles: a 60-strong chamber orchestra, a choir, and the famous Metropole light orchestra.
A total of 340 musicians all work within the impressive Music Centre building, which has administrative offices and rehearsal rooms within its walls.
A fortnight ago I was present at an enthralling rehearsal of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony which the NRPO was undertaking in an acoustically-streamlined hall – with business-class aeroplane seats donated by Royal Dutch Airlines dotted quirkily around the floor-space for casual listeners such as myself.
Pride of place on the walls of this room is devoted to a poster of the orchestra’s last visit to Symphony Hall, when on consecutive evenings it performed the fifth symphonies of Beethoven and Mahler, followed by their respective sixths the next night.
So they return to Birmingham in good heart, as their music director Jaap van Zweden tells me in his busy office immediately after the rehearsal.
After an interesting discussion about the order of the inner movements in Mahler Six – during which I reminisce about a dinner-party conversation-stopping friendly argument over it I had with Sir Simon Rattle after a CBSO performance in Frankfurt years ago – I ask Jaap about the character of his two orchestras (the other one is the renowned Dallas Symphony Orchestra).
How does he go about moulding the sound he has inherited from his predecessors until he has made it his own?
“Well, first of all you know there is a history there, and there is a lot of respect for that history,” he replies. “At the same time I bring my own sound, and I bring my own timing and my own way of working.
“I think it’s very important that every day when you are going on stage that you respect the so-called ‘group soul’ of an orchestra, and you have to respect in the same way what kind of a sound they produce.