David Zinman’s quiet Zurich exit at the Proms last night – Telegraph Blogs

David Zinman conducts at the BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall

David Zinman conducts at the BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall. (Photo: PA)

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially if it marks the end of a near-20 year relationship. So I was expecting tears, hugs, high emotion at the Prom when David Zinman said goodbye to the venerable Zurich Tonhalle orchestra, bringing to an end some two decades as its chief conductor. But things didn’t happen quite like that. As farewells go, it was a quiet, understated, dignified affair. I should have guessed. This is a Swiss band. And from Zurich, home of quiet exits.

So what we got – apart from a morsel of Swiss kitsch as an encore – was an impeccably conservative programme of Strauss, Dvorak and Beethoven done with the effortless, unforced, ungushing self-assurance of a conductor and ensemble who know each other’s minds and are collectively a class act. Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel came with the light touch you’d associate with lighter music: Johann Strauss rather than Richard. Dvorak’s Violin Concerto offered textural substance without undue weight, and had the immaculately poised Julia Fischer as soloist – as she has already been with Zinman and the Tonhalle on an outstanding Decca CD of the Dvorak. And things finished with a Beethoven 6th Symphony that was, I suppose, a valedictory statement (chief among the Zinman/Tonhalle recorded legacy has been a much-admired Beethoven cycle) but benign, serene, without a hint of self-regard or swagger but the latest period scholarship (including decorative ornaments). Though farewells can be tasteless, nobody could fault the measured eloquence of this one.

But that said, a tear or two wouldn’t have gone amiss – because the Zinman years in Zurich have been seriously distinguished. As conductors go, he may not be a household name, but Zinman is a truly great orchestral trainer and developer. The Tonhalle as it now stands, is effectively his creation: most of its existing members were appointed by him, many have grown up into maturity under his baton. He has raised its standards beyond reckoning over those two decades, transforming it from a comfortably-off municipal band to a world-league ensemble. His departure will be seismic. And you might wonder why he’s going: a question I asked him recently when he was last in London. Was he afraid of this long relationship turning stale? Did he feel he’d done everything he could in Zurich?

The answer was no on both counts. It was simply that he felt the need to do less and hand over to a younger man. Zinman is 78, which is in fact no great age by the standards of a profession whose leading luminaries tend still to flourish in their 80s (or in the case of Neville Marriner, 90s). But he’s in less than great health. And the demands of running an orchestra, complete with tours and education projects and the myriad other things a modern MD is supposed to do (including keeping sponsors happy) has become too much. Which is why he’s handing over to a 27yr-old, the thrustingly youthful and energised Lionel Briguier.

History has shown that Zinman isn’t good at handings-over: he got terribily upset some years ago when his successor at the Baltimore Symphony took the orchestra in a different direction to the one he’d nurtured. So who knows how he’ll cope with whatever Bringuier brings? But at least he won’t be breathing down this new successor’s neck. He’s literally packed his bags in Zurich (which has been his main home all the while) and is about to move back to his native USA. He will be missed.

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22 July 2014 | 2:44 pm – Source: telegraph.co.uk

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