A Look Toward the Netherlands: The Magnetic Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
PHOTO© Guido Pijper
By Pokey LIN
When it comes to the best orchestras in the world, it's quite a shame if you only know about the Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic. There are two world-class orchestras in the Netherlands too: the 135-year-old Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam and the Rotterdam Philharmonic, which is also over a century old.
Rotterdam, established 683 years ago, boasts Europe's largest port. After WWI in 1918, several musicians formed the Rotterdam Philharmonic, which was originally a private group. During Dutch conductor Eduard FLIPSE's 35 years as its principal conductor, the group's financial situation improved, and it transformed into a professional orchestra focusing on contemporary music and the work of Dutch composers.
After WWII, the orchestra started gaining fame abroad, especially in the 1980s, as the series of conductors who led it—American James CONLON (1983-1991), Briton Jeffrey TATE (1991-1995), Russian Valery GERGIEV (1995-2008), Canadian Yannick NÉZET-SÉGUIN (2008–2018), and, now, Israeli Lahav SHANI—have continually pushed the group toward the peak of world-class quality.
In recent years, a trend has emerged among famed orchestras around the world—their principal conductors or music directors are getting younger and younger! In the past, older, highly experienced people were hired to boost performance skill and gain favor with audiences and sponsors. But now, these orchestras are already famed and perform exceptionally, so renowned masters are no longer needed as much. As a result, young, vibrant conductors are getting a chance, which, for instance, is the case with both the Berlin Philharmonic and the Rotterdam Philharmonic.
When the Rotterdam Philharmonic took on NÉZET-SÉGUIN as its 11th principal conductor, he was only 33, and after his ten years there, the number of fans had grown—hiring him was clearly the right choice. In 2016, SHANI collaborated with the Rotterdam Philharmonic for the first time, performing as both conductor and solo pianist at the same concert, and based just on that, the members of the orchestra unanimously selected him as the 12th principal conductor beginning in 2018, at which time he was 29, the orchestra's youngest leader ever.
SHANI was born in Israel in 1989 and double-majored in piano and conducting. When he was 22, Zubin MEHTA hired him as a solo pianist and assistant conductor to tour with the Israel Philharmonic. In 2013, at the age of 24, SHANI won first prize in the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition, initiating a brilliant career in conducting for him. The Rotterdam Philharmonic is his first engagement as a full-time conductor. Beginning in 2020, he got an additional job as music director with an old, heavyweight friend, the Israel Philharmonic.
Under SHANI's baton, the Rotterdam Philharmonic has continued to collaborate with international recording brands and founded its own brand for its recordings. While Covid was shutting the world down, they broadcasted performances live on a digital platform, including "From Us, for You," an online performance of BEETHOVEN's Ode to Joy that has been a huge hit with over three million views.
In 2019, before the outbreak of Covid, SHANI led the orchestra in its first performance at Weiwuying. Four years later (this June), they will be returning. On June 16, they will perform two pieces by BRAHMS, one being his Symphony No. 1 in c minor, Op. 68, which took him 21 years to write! The other is Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77, which reputed Taiwanese violinist Paul HUANG will play. The following day, the orchestra will play TCHAIKOVSKY's Symphony No. 6 in b minor, Op. 74 (Pathétique), and winner of the most recent International Chopin Piano Competition Bruce LIU (a Canadian of Chinese descent) will play BEETHOVEN's Piano Concerto No. 3 in c minor, Op. 37. This is a stacked performance you just will not want to miss!
The Rotterdam Philharmonic, with its youthful vitality and unique interpretations, will only perform twice at Weiwuying's vineyard-style Concert Hall. Those of you who live in Kaohsiung have really lucked out! Everyone else—hope you can find a way to get there too!
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