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Ed Spanjaard is the ideal new leader of the Orchestra of the East

After it was announced in January this year that Jan Willem de Vriend was leaving at the end of the 2016/2017 season, the Orchestra of the East announced that it was in no hurry to find a successor. One would start working with "renowned guest conductors". Just over six months later, a few months before the departure of interim director Bart van Meijl, a successor was still presented. That this successor, Ed Spanjaard, is given the title of 'permanent conductor' seems mainly a semantic issue. Spanjaard will be the new figurehead of the Overijssel orchestra. A better choice could hardly be imagined.


That a 1948 Haarlem-born conductor should bring rejuvenation to an unwieldy apparatus like this major symphony orchestra in the BIS may sound crazy, but Ed Spanjaard can provide exactly that. Whereas his immediate predecessors Jaap van Zweden (new music only when absolutely necessary) and Jan Willem de Vriend (new music is a newly discovered work by a forgotten baroque composer) are specialists in romantic/late-romantic and baroque, respectively, Ed Spanjaard embraces new compositions. He has conducted an impressive number of world premieres, not least by Dutch composers, and, unlike Van Zweden and De Vriend, also specialises in works for smaller ensemble. Moreover, he frequently works with young people.


His emphatic specialisation has Jaap van Zweden to the absolute world top: he is the new principal conductor of the New York Philharmonic. Specialising initially also marked Jan Willem de Vriend's career, but since he increasingly sought it in broadening, it resulted in volatile concerts and more focus on television appearances than on rehearsal space and concert hall.

Ed Spanjaard has always been a generalist. In more than forty years of conducting, he has naturally built up a vast repertoire that includes not only the Mahlers with which the Orkest van het Oosten under Van Zweden impressed so much, but also Mozart, Haydn and you name it. From Bach to Boulez, but also from Adés to Adams and Van der Aa.


It is this government's magic word: connection. We are all getting tired of it. Most culture councillors look for connection mainly in forced or unforced mergers of theatres or all together in an office garden, obviously with the sole aim of more audience for less money. Provincial administrators think purely of maintaining any function for their own province - however impossible this may turn out to be. Real cultural connection never actually comes from above, but from the makers. And Ed Spanjaard is the right man for just that. Not only through his broad repertoire, with an eye for young composers and musicians, but also because he fits the political profile of the orchestra's new chief.

Broken connection

The Orchestra of the East sat at the ground. Concerts were cancelled, and even bankruptcy seemed inevitable. Director Harm Mannak stepped down 'voluntarily'. When it subsequently emerged that provincial political support had fallen to zero, the entire Supervisory Board had to leave as well.

Of course, attempts were made to cover everything with the cloak of love. In the Provincial Council, people covered up their own failures and the millions that had disappeared by throwing everything on the disappointing economy. The Enschede alderman for culture reassured the morose city council by pleading with the province to support the orchestra. The province in particular called for support from the state.

That's shuffling off for the advanced, knowing that Gelderland is at that very moment millions made available to 'their' orchestra, with another new concert hall as a bonus. The aim was the same: to buy off subsidy dependence.

In May came the advice of the Culture Council. Both eastern orchestras, as argued by the Council for decades, must cooperate extensively, otherwise 0 euro. A storm broke out, with orchestra director Wiebren Buma, like Enschede earlier, bombarding Arnhem as "the capital of culture of the East' and screened great numbers that are not:

'Sponsorship income increased from €267,000 in 2013 to €313,000 in 2015. The application for the next grant period builds on that successful and innovative course.'

Successful? On the contrary. Innovative? Not at all.

Forced connection

Painfully, for both orchestras, on 2 June, Minister Bussemaker put her finger on the sore spot in the Parliamentary debate on the advice of the Council for Culture: 'Two eastern orchestras is desirable for distribution, but leads to bad employment.' We wrote much previously about it, and Buma also admits it: 'The cost reduction initially consisted of part-time dismissal of the musicians. They went to a 60 per cent contract and thus lost 40 per cent of their income.' Exactly the same thing happened at the Orchestra of the East.

The Orchestra of the East also responded dismissive on the council's advice: The orchestra does not want a forced marriage, but explicitly seeks cooperation:

'As the Orchestra of the East has already indicated in its BIS application, it wants to shape the new artistic direction in the coming period and also further develop the collaboration with the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra. The orchestra does express the hope that, together with all stakeholders in the eastern part of the country, it will be given the space to shape the collaboration with the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra, among others, within a realistic time frame, based on a substantive vision'.

Knitting tool

We ignore for a moment the fashionable 'stakeholders', which has now become standard especially in the football world and preferably in the lazy translation 'stitch holders', which we know as a knitting tool, and read here at 'stakeholders' but 'important partners'. But where Harm Mannak and Jan Willem de Vriend saw those partners mainly as candidates for takeover, the Orchestra of the East is now a lot more realistic.

Much of the credits for that should go to Bart van Meijl, who as interim faced the orchestra's acute financial problems. He had to come up with a new plan quickly, but without using the much-feared merger word. It is he, who since his appointment has consistently placed far-reaching cooperation with the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra high on the agenda.

Connection personified

Ed Spanjaard is the right man for exactly that. Not only did he already conduct both Eastern orchestras with great success, he was also closely involved in perhaps the greatest artistic triumph of both orchestras: Wagner's Ring.

Die artistic triumph Moreover, hits those er... other 'stakeholder' in Overijssel and Enschede: the Nederlandse Reisopera.

The Netherlands Reisopera depends mainly on the Orkest van het Oosten and Het Gelders Orkest for opera accompaniment. Both orchestras can only handle that task - both in terms of line-up and programming - together. With a conductor who has vast experience in the opera repertoire, from very large to chamber opera small, the collaboration with the Reisopera also seems to have new opportunities. A collaboration that Jan Willem de Vriend, with his grotesque plans for a hostile takeover of the Reisopera thoroughly soured, but which, thanks to Spanjaard, is opening up many new possibilities.

The youth theatre companies in Overijssel and Gelderland (Sonnevanck and Kwatta) already work with orchestras to a greater or lesser extent. Introdans still too little. But the possibilities are enormous. How about New Year's concerts with young talents in Enschede, Zwolle, Arnhem and Nijmegen. With Bernstein, Bizet, Sondheim, instrumental pieces by Wagner for large orchestra with ballet and the final scene by Strauss Der Rosenkavelier. A collaboration that Amsterdam and The Hague will envy.

So: purely blue skies and endless vistas?

On the contrary. The Orchestra of the East has to look for a new director, whose core task is immediately to realise far-reaching cooperation. Meanwhile, the brand-new director of the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra finds himself saddled with the leaden mortgage of his predecessor. Because as great as it sounds, investing millions in a new hall, Gelderland and Arnhem want something in return - more than the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra can humanly offer. Although lobbying from both orchestras has resulted in adopted motion in which both orchestras do not have to finish their plans within two years, but are given four years. By doing so, they gain time but not money.


Added to this is the terrifying example of the southern orchestras. They too fiercely resisted merger, repented, but did so purely for form's sake, according to the Culture Council. As a result, the granting of subsidies is now still linked to choosing one place of establishment, with one of the 'pseudo-independent' orchestras also receiving a qualitatively negative assessment. Remarkably, the Council fails to indicate which southern branch is involved.

Gelderland and Overijssel should not want such cooperation. They should develop a joint vision now, with Arnhem, Enschede and Zwolle showing guts. They should not let themselves be led by local and provincial administrators. The draconian cuts by Zijlstra and Wilders will not be reversed, provincial lobbying leads to mere pyrrhic victories in which Monasch wholesale. Someone has to take the lead.

But who?

The solution is as logical as it is controversial. Any new director of the Orchestra of the East will not want to be the man or woman who gets to name the merger we are not allowed to call that. So that one will fight tooth and nail. The negotiating position is so unequal in this (province that just has to take a loss versus province that just jumps in at the deep end), that the end result will be that the state intervenes.

Van Meijl therefore seems the right man to oversee the merger. His big disadvantage is that he is now interim of the Orchestra of the East; his advantage is that it removes the advantage of Het Gelders. Besides, he is leaving anyway. Any other scenario will irrevocably lead to two fighting directors, with a process supervisor above them, even more 'own city and province first', and lots of extra costs not spent on the core task but with the same result anyway.

This is where Ed Spanjaard can play a connecting role.

Henri Drost

Henri Drost (1970) studied Dutch and American Studies in Utrecht. Sold CDs and books for years, then became a communications consultant. Writes for among others GPD magazines, Metro, LOS!, De Roskam, 8weekly, Mania, hetiskoers and Cultureel Persbureau/De Dodo about everything, but if possible about music (theatre) and sports. Other specialisms: figures, the United States and healthcare. Listens to Waits and Webern, Wagner and Dylan and pretty much everything in between.View Author posts

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