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We Were There: State of the Arts with Jaap van Zweden and Trenton Doyle Hancock

by Anne Bothwell 23 Sep 2010 1:47 PM

Highlights from last night’s conversation with Jaap van Zweden and Trenton Doyle Hancock.


Trenton Doyle Hancock said hello to destiny at the ripe old age of 3. His aunt, who wasn’t an artist, but taught him to draw farm animals, helped him scrawl out a sentence:  “I want to be a painter.”

Jaap van Zweden’s dad was a pianist, who sometimes made extra money performing with a group of gypsies. Said gypsies sometimes performed at the young Jaap’s home, and that is where Jaap, at the more mature age of 7, became enamored with the group’s charismatic violinist/frontman and decided “This is what I want to do.”

It might seem the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra would have little in common with an acclaimed painter and installation artist from Houston.  But both are artists. And when two artists get together, their similarities emerge just as clearly as their differences. Getting to see that happen on stage – when even the interview subjects seem just a little unclear about why they’ve been brought together – is the beauty of the State of the Art series that kicked off last night at the Dallas Museum of Art. 

Van Zweden conducts a Beethoven program this weekend. And Hancock’s work is on view now at Dunn and Brown. The next State of the Arts is October 14. Kevin Moriarty, artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center, joins Anne Pasternak, president of Creative Time, the New York group that commissions and produces public art and that won the inaugural SMU Meadows Prize for artist residency.

Some interesting tidbits from last night’s conversation:

Audience outlook: I was a little surprised to hear both Van Zweden and Hancock say Texas audiences are more welcoming and supportive than elsewhere.  Van Zweden, who is also music director of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orchestra, points out that orchestras in Europe are subsidized by government. Here, they’re supported financially by the community.  “The feedback and relationship with people [in Dallas] is much stronger,” and the orchestra seems more closely identified as part of the city, for the people of the city, to the point that he feels there are “more close relationships here than the country where I was brought up.”

Hancock, who’s lived and worked in Philadelphia and New York, says he is often inviting others to try working in Texas, where he finds “a depth to the audience, a support for art that is different” from other communities. “Texas is a very welcoming place. It’s also very big. You have room to spread out. And I need that room.”

New Music and Carnegie Hall: Equally counterintuitive was van Zweden’s assertion that Dallas audiences appreciate new classical music. He backed it up, though, pointing out that it was last year’s successful debut of  Steven Stucky’s  August 4, 1964, and not a Beethoven program, that lead to the DSO’s Carnegie Hall date in 2011.  While conventional wisdom says new music can be a tough sell for season subscribers, “the biggest risk is to take no risk.”

More orchestra updates: Expect to hear more opera from the DSO, as van Zweden finds it “the ultimate form of art in our business.” Working with singers is important to developing an orchestra, he says,  so we can expect that “once a year, at least.”

The DSO is searching for a new concert master. And van Zweden laid out a few things he’s looking for: a violinist who can play a phenomenal concerto, then meld back into the group. But most important: “we are looking for a very good father or a very good mother for the orchestra,” a person who can make the group feel protected, but also deliver advice and criticism and act as a liaison between the many visiting conductors and the orchestra.  Take a close look at some of the DSO guests this season. They may become much more familiar faces in the future.

Random revelations: Hancock is from a family of gospel musicians and he himself is an accomplished drummer. But he sat in on a DSO rehearsal this week, and it made him “want to break my sticks.”  Also, one of his first deep encounters with a painting was during a visit to the DMA as a child – he fell under the spell of a Motherwell that made him feel he had a sense of what the artist was trying to do and got him thinking deeply about how that particularly painting came together.

Both Hancock and van Zweden agree that they’re most in love with the pieces they’re performing or creating at the moment. But van Zweden did cop to a special connection with Bach. “Bach is the composer who cleans you up the most. If you are sitting on the couch with a lot of feelings and emotions, you can listen to Bach for an hour, stand up and feel really cleaned inside.”

Here’s Hancock working with the Austin Ballet on “Cult of Color”.