VAN ZWEDEN Well, my experience with this fantastic orchestra — they are phenomenal — is that sometimes, especially in the beginning of the season, they told me, “This is the sound of the New York Philharmonic, and this is how we’re going to keep it.”
And I completely respect that. But what I like to add is that it depends on the composer how your sound is, and it depends on the style of music. French music has to be played differently than Russian music. We should use different techniques. There is a big difference between the color of a Rembrandt oil painting and a van Gogh watercolor.
NÉZET-SÉGUIN That was something that one of my predecessors in Philadelphia, Riccardo Muti, was also talking about, because he was tired of everyone talking about “the Philadelphia sound.” He said, “Well, I want the Mozart sound, I want the Tchaikovsky sound.” It was a bit provocative from him to say that.
At the Met, I talk often with them about enhancing the vocabulary — just enlarging it. A different kind of attack on the note, a different kind of blend, a different kind of width of the sound, as appropriate to the composer. It’s still the same orchestra. But you just explore all the possibilities between, you know, the types of oil and water paints.
It’s a young orchestra, and the recent years have been not stable for the organization, musically speaking. Therefore, I arrived with not necessarily such a strong sense of “this is how we do it.” And I don’t mean that the quality was less. But they had a way to fit every repertoire, so that the orchestra could sound good, basically, in everything. Now we’re working to specify more.
VAN ZWEDEN To play all these different styles, week after week — it’s like they benefit from each other. They are fed by each other. I think that “The Rite of Spring” is a better “Rite of Spring” if you also know the “St. Matthew Passion.” And the other way around.