Serious business

Addicted to quality: HK Philharmonic’s Jaap van Zweden

Orchestras and businesses are not that different, according to Jaap van Zweden, Music Director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Words by MARK TJHUNG

You’ve worked with orchestras in Europe and the US, and you’ve been with the HK Phil for five years. How do orchestras reflect their locations?

I’m talking just one language, the language of music. That is universal. So the music is not different if I’m here or in New York, Dallas or Amsterdam. But there are different people in different places, which is wonderful, and you can learn from every society and their differences.

In January, the HK Phil will complete its performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle with Götterdämmerung. What does this achievement represent?

First of all, it represents a stage where we reached a goal of excellence and global recognition, which neither the orchestra nor I had before. In the musical world, people did not expect the Hong Kong Philharmonic to deliver a Ring Cycle on that level. It was quite a shock. And they will have more shocks when our Siegfried CD comes out in December: it is fantastic.

In a way, orchestras are not that different from businesses. How do you go about brand building an orchestra?

We don’t live with the thought that you’re only as good as your last concert, but that you are your next concert. It’s a very healthy brand for our orchestra and also a very bright one.

What’s your philosophy on building the team culture of an orchestra?

For a conductor, one of the most important things is to have an orchestra that is really confident in their strengths. To get that, you need to bring out the talent.

When you have a leader who is asking a lot from you – it doesn’t matter if it is a conductor, chairman of the board, anyone – it means he or she believes in the talent. Sometimes it’s not so easy because I can be very demanding. I don’t care. I care about the final result.

Next year, you take up your appointment as music director of the New York Philharmonic. How are you feeling ahead of that?

New York is for America what Hong Kong is for the East, so I feel very at home in New York. And of course I am extremely happy that there are direct flights every day from Hong Kong to New York on Cathay Pacific! For me, it could not be a better place.

What’s the next step for the HK Phil?

People always ask me about the future. But it doesn’t work for me to think about the future. If I work with the orchestra and make it better and better, the results will come to us. If you hunt it, like the horizon, it’s like an addiction to success. My goal is to have an addiction to quality; then success will follow.

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