David Zinman started to study the violin at the age of six, and was a violin student at the Oberlin College Conservatory. After graduating he studied composition for three years at the University of Minnesota, about which he later commented, ‘It was a great way of actually understanding how composers compose, and that helps me in my interpretative work.’ During this period he also studied conducting at the Tanglewood Music Center, where he came to the attention of Pierre Monteux, who invited him to be his assistant with the London Symphony Orchestra during his tenure of that orchestra’s chief conductorship, from 1961 to 1964. Zinman conducted the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra to considerable critical acclaim at the Holland Festival in 1963, substituting for Paul Sacher. He was appointed chief conductor of this orchestra with effect from the following year, and remained with it until 1977. Also from 1974 he served as chief conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in the USA, retaining this post until 1985. With the Rochester orchestra he made numerous tours as well as recordings, all of which helped to establish his reputation in America.
In 1985, following two years as its principal guest conductor, he began a thirteen-year period as chief conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which under his leadership greatly extended its reputation. Zinman conducted the orchestra in a wide repertoire that included much contemporary music, and introduced the orchestra to historically-informed performance practice. In addition it recorded extensively, and introduced new formats for concerts as a means of widening its audiences. During this period Zinman also conducted far and wide as a guest, appearing with all the leading American orchestras, as well as at numerous summer festivals such as those at Ravinia, Tanglewood and Saratoga. He was artistic director of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sommerfest from 1994 to 1996.
In Europe Zinman held the post of chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra between 1979 and 1982, and appeared as a guest conductor, as in America, with many leading orchestras, including the Zürich Tonhalle from 1983 onwards. He became chief conductor of this orchestra in 1995, and as at Baltimore, he once again created a vibrant organisation based on the formula of artistic revitalisation of its concerts, recording, and touring, which included successful appearances in America and Japan as well as throughout Europe. For the Arte Nova label Zinman and the Tonhalle have recorded complete cycles of the Beethoven and Schumann symphonies, all the tone poems of Richard Strauss and, with Pamela Frank, all the violin concertos by Mozart. These recordings have enjoyed considerable critical and commercial success.
Since 1998 Zinman has been music director of the Aspen Music Festival, which encompasses the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen. Here each year twenty conducting students are able to study with both leading conductors and an orchestra of experienced musicians. Zinman also teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and in Zürich. While promoting with flair the work of contemporary American composers, such as Aaron Jay Kernis, Christopher Rouse and Michael Torke (for which he was awarded the Ditson Award from Columbia University in 1997), Zinman has also developed a more European approach to his conducting, in which atmosphere and architecture are as important as technical excellence. The results are impressive.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).