The 46-year-old Dutchman — who replaces Andrew Litton, who stepped down at the end of the 2005-06 season — is relatively unknown in the U.S. (though he's now quite famous in his homeland); a 1996 appearance with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra was his only U.S. engagement prior to his February 2006 appearance with the DSO. That concert was reportedly an enormous hit with audiences and musicians; Dallas Morning News critic Scott Cantrell wrote, "Sell the farm, mortgage the children, cancel the cruise. Do what you have to do to get to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's concerts this weekend."
In his first year at the DSO he will conduct 12 weeks, escalating to 15 weeks each subsequent yeas. As music director designate next season (2007-2008) he will conduct Beethoven's Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 in October and by Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8 in November. He returns in April 2008 to conduct the DSO and the Dallas Symphony Chorus in the Verdi Requiem.
Born in Amsterdam in 1960, van Zweden studied violin at Juilliard with Dorothy DeLay beginning at age 16; at 19, he was named concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, where he remained for 16 years. He began conducting part-time in 1994, and performed his last concert as a violinist in 1997. In 1996, he was named chief conductor of the Orkest van het Oosten (called in English the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra), based in Enschede; he held that position until 2003. From 2000-2005, he was also music director of the Residentie Orchestra of the Hague, with whom he recorded all nine Beethoven symphonies for the Philips label.
His guest conducting engagements include the Royal Concertgebouw; the Orchestre national de France; the Munich, Rotterdam, Oslo, St. Petersburg, Tokyo, London and Hong Kong Philharmonics; the Academy of St.-Martin-in-the-Fields; and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to the Dallas post, van Zweden will keep his jobs as music director of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and Kamer Filharmonie (which he began in 2005 and is contracted through 2013) and principal conductor designate of the Antwerp-based Royal Flemish Philharmonic (also called deFilharmonie, where he takes over for three years beginning in 2008).
The Dallas Morning News quotes DSO concertmaster Emanuel Borok, one of four musicians on the 15-member search committee, as saying, "From the very first note he drew from the orchestra, I was jolted. I thought, my God, there is some energy here. For the rest of the week, there was a sound coming from the orchestra, from the strings especially, that I was wanting to hear for many years. The sheer volume and the healthy energy that was coming from the orchestra was just overwhelming."
Commenting on his appointment, Van Zweden said, "Although limited, my experiences in the United States have been wonderful, both musically and personally. Coming here to now lead a great American orchestra begins an exciting new chapter in my life and career. I am energized by the challenge and honored by the appointment."
Among the new maestro's tasks in Dallas next season (as music director designate) will be the hiring of a principal oboe and principal trumpet. Above all, writes the Morning News, he "must re-energize the orchestra and get the city excited enough to fill conspicuous swaths of empty seats."