Van Zweden was born on December 12, 1960, in Amsterdam. With his pianist father's encouragement, he took up the violin at age five. After winning the National Oskar Back Violin Competition at age 15, van Zweden then enrolled at Juilliard, where he studied with Dorothy DeLay. In 1979, at age 18, van Zweden was appointed as a co-concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, becoming the youngest person to hold this position. He remained at this post until 1995. Van Zweden won an Edison Award in 1984 for a recording of Brahms' violin sonatas, with Ronald Brautigam on piano.
A critical moment in van Zweden's career came in 1990 while in Berlin with the Concertgebouw. During rehearsal, Leonard Bernstein asked van Zweden to conduct the first movement of Mahler's first symphony while Bernstein listened from the hall. In the following years, his focus shifted towards conducting. During this period, he spent time leading the Brabants Orchestra and recorded concertos from Locatelli's L'Arte del Violino with the Combattimento Consort. Following his departure from the Concertgebouw, he conducted the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg and performed with the Berlin Symphony.
In 1996, van Zweden was named the chief conductor of the Orkest van het Oosten, serving until 2000. That same year he made his U.S. debut guest conducting the St. Louis Symphony. He was named the permanent guest conductor of the Brabants Orchestra in 1997. He served as the chief conductor of the Residentie Orkest of the Hague from 2000-2005. During the 2002-2003 season, he made his opera conducting debut, leading the Nationale Reisopera in Beethoven's Fidelio, and recorded Beethoven's nine symphonies with the Residentie Orkest. He was the chief conductor and artistic director of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and Chamber Philharmonic orchestras from 2005-2012. Van Zweden was named the music director of the Dallas Symphony in 2008, following a successful guest conductor performance in 2006. He was also the chief conductor of the Filharmonie van Vlaanderen from 2008-2011. In 2012, van Zweden was named the music director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic. He led the orchestra in the Hong Kong premiere of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. Van Zweden landed his most illustrious position yet in 2016 when the New York Philharmonic named him its next music director. He concluded his tenure with the Dallas Symphony and began his appointment with the New York Philharmonic in 2018. The Dallas Symphony named him conductor laureate following his departure.
Van Zweden has recorded for a variety of labels, including Naxos, Philips, and Challenge Classics. He released several albums on Decca Gold in 2019 with the New York Philharmonic. Among these is the premiere of Julia Wolfe's Fire in My Mouth, which received Grammy nominations for Best Classical Contemporary Composition and Best Engineered Album, Classical.
In 1997, Jaap and Aaltje van Zweden established the Papageno Foundation, which offers music therapy to aid in the development of children and young adults with autism. It has since expanded to included in-home care, a permanent living space and research center, and an app. ~ Keith Finke, Rovi
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