After Andrew Litton announced he would be stepping down as music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra three years ago, the search for his successor commenced. It was a rigorous process that reached to the ends of the earth — no stone was left unturned, no conductor left unwatched. Then, in February of 2006, Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden gave an exhilarating performance with the DSO that blew away musicians and critics alike, and he leapt to the top of the search list. One year later, the DSO proudly announced his appointment as its new music director.
While his only other appearance as a guest conductor in the U.S. was with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra in 1996, van Zweden was well-known to European, Australian, and Asian audiences. At age 19 he joined the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra as concertmaster, and he spent the next 16 years being inspired and mentored by Solti, Haitink, Giulini, Harnoncourt, and Bernstein. As a matter of fact, it was Bernstein who asked him, in 1990, to take over a Mahler Symphony No. 1 rehearsal as Bernstein listened from the hall. Bernstein's pronouncement was that van Zweden was a born conductor. With this encouragement, the Juilliard-trained violinist began studying conducting in the Netherlands and performed as violinist and conductor with several orchestras between 1994 and 1997.
In 1997 van Zweden made the decision to conduct full time, played his last concert as a violinist with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and was named the chief conductor of the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, where he remained until 2003. In 2000 he added the music directorship of the Residentie Orchestra of The Hague to his credits, a post he held until 2005.
In addition to his extensive symphonic repertoire, opera has played an important part in van Zweden's career. During recent seasons he has conducted La traviata and Fidelio with the Nationale Reisopera in Holland and Samuel Barber's Vanessa in a concert performance at the Concertgebouw with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. A prolific recording artist, van Zweden has recorded all of the Beethoven symphonies with the Residentie Orchestra of The Hague for Philips and is in the process of recording for Octavia all of the Bruckner symphonies with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.
Born in 1960 in the Netherlands, van Zweden began his violin studies at the Amsterdam Conservatory before entering The Juilliard School in New York at age 16 as a student of Dorothy DeLay. He supported his way through school by winning various violin competitions. Married in 1983, he and his wife, Aaltje, have four children, ages 12 to 22.
The van Zwedens are very committed to bringing awareness and acceptance to the cause of autism; in the Netherlands they established the Papageno Foundation, devoted to bringing music therapy into the homes of autistic children.