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HANS VONK

Hans Vonk’s father was a violinist in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, who died when his son was only three years old. Throughout his childhood Hans studied the piano, but, at the request of his mother, he studied law at the University of Amsterdam, playing jazz piano at night to support himself. However, after deciding that he could not find it within himself to become ‘one of just hundreds of attorneys’, he enrolled at the Amsterdam Conservatory to study the piano. During his second year there he played for conducting classes and decided to switch to conducting. ‘It was…so wonderful,’ he recalled, ‘the way the conductor released the music—I went to the director of the school, and I said, “This is a wonderful thing, this conducting. I would love to study it as well.” ’ After graduating in 1964 Vonk undertook further study with the conductors Franco Ferrara and Hermann Scherchen. He was appointed conductor of the Dutch National Ballet in 1966, and three years later became assistant conductor with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra. Vonk first conducted opera with the Netherlands Opera in 1971, directing Wolfgang Fortner’s In seinem Garten liebt Don Perlimplin.

Soon Vonk was offered positions of musical leadership, serving as chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra from 1973 to 1979 and of the Netherlands Opera from 1976 to 1985. During the later part of the 1970s he also began to conduct abroad, being appointed associate conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for a three-year period from 1976 and conducting the orchestra with great success at the King’s Lynn Festival in 1979. He became chief conductor of The Hague Residentie Orchestra in 1980, and then in 1985 was approached to become chief conductor of the Dresden Opera and of its distinguished orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle. This was a time of difficulty for Vonk: Germany was still divided into East and West, and he was permitted to talk to his musicians only during rehearsals and was harried by the state bureaucracy. However, good results may be perceived in Vonk’s recordings from this period, including a live account of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, mounted to mark the reopening of the Semper Opera House (1985). He appeared also at La Scala, Milan, in 1988, conducting Jommelli’s rarely heard opera Fetonte.

By the time he left his post in Dresden in 1990, Vonk had been diagnosed with what was then thought to be Guillain-Barré syndrome, a muscular weakness starting with the hands and feet. However, after taking a year off to rest and recuperate, he took up the post of chief conductor of the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1991, and the following year made his first appearance with the St Louis Symphony Orchestra in the USA. He established an immediate rapport with the members of the orchestra which bore fruit four years later when in 1996 he was appointed as its chief conductor. During his time with the St Louis Orchestra Vonk developed a rich, warm, and cohesive sound that was European in character, and concentrated upon the core repertoire of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Bruckner, while also not neglecting contemporary music. He also appeared as a guest conductor with the Boston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras, amongst others. However, by the start of the 2001–2002 season it was clear that Vonk’s health was deteriorating. His neurological symptoms were now diagnosed as a condition similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a motor neuron disease that causes degeneration throughout the brain and spinal cord, resulting in muscular weakness and atrophy. Two months after a performance during February 2002, when he was unable to turn the pages of his conducting score and had to be helped from the podium, he resigned his position with the orchestra, but rallied sufficiently to conduct a final, highly-charged, performance of Mahler’s Symphony No 4 in May 2002.

Vonk was a most interesting conductor: with his tall build he was a dominant figure on the conductor’s platform, and his physical gestures were wide and expansive, without being at all vague. His interpretations had great vitality, perhaps reflecting his experience as a ballet conductor, as well as a strong sense of musical architecture. He presented a clear and faithful vision of the composer’s intentions, insisting upon a detailed realization of everything in the score, and was at his best in music of the late-Romantic period, where his mastery of orchestral colour and balance may be heard to good effect. His recorded legacy is regrettably modest, but contains several notable recordings, including fine studio accounts of Dutch music with The Hague Residentie Orchestra and a series of live performances with the St Louis Symphony Orchestra.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).


Albums featuring this artist are available for download from ClassicsOnline.com
Role: Conductor 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
BAKER, C.: Glass Bead Game (The) / Awaking the Winds / Shadows / The Mystic Trumpeter (Saint Louis Symphony, Slatkin, Vonk) Naxos
8.559642
Orchestral
BERLIN CASTLES (MUSIC FROM) - GRAUN, J.G. / FREDERICK II / BENDA, F. / QUANTZ, J.J. / AUGUST WILHELM / JANITSCH, J.G. / BACH, C.P.E. Capriccio
C49503
Orchestral
Choral Music (100 Masterpieces) Capriccio
C49565
Orchestral
CLASSIC MASTERWORKS - Felix Mendelssohn Capriccio
C49040
Orchestral
CLASSIC MASTERWORKS - Peter Tchaikovsky Capriccio
C49031
Ballet, Orchestral, Ballet, Orchestral
CLASSIC MOODS - GRIEG, E. / SCHUMANN, R. / FAURE, G. / TCHAIKOVKSY, P.I. / PUCCINI, G. / DEBUSSY, C. / BRAHMS, J. / MUSSORGSKY, M.P. Capriccio
C18420
Ballet
CLASSIC MOODS - PUCCINI, G. / SCHUBERT, F. / WAGNER, R. / RUBINSTEIN, A. / TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I. Capriccio
C18404
Ballet
CLASSIC MOODS - SCHUBERT, F. / BRAHMS, J. / DAVID, F. / BEETHOVEN, L. van / WOLF, H. / MAHLER, G. / MENDELSSOHN, Felix / ABY, F.W. / REYER, E. Capriccio
C18412
Orchestral
MELODIES FROM 1001 NIGHTS - MOZART, W. A. / GLUCK, C. W. / BEETHOVEN, L. van / CORNELIUS, P. / MUSSORGSKY, M. / VERDI, G. / BIZET, G. Capriccio
C49205-4
Orchestral
MENDELSSOHN, Felix: Incidental Music - Antigone, Oedipus at Colonus, Athalie, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Soltesz, Spering, Vonk) Capriccio
C49581
Orchestral
MENDELSSOHN, Felix: Midsummer Night's Dream (A) / The Hebrides (Vonk) Capriccio
C10407
Orchestral
MIDNIGHT LOUNGE - Chill Out Classics and Meditation Capriccio
C49326
Orchestral
MOZART (A HOMAGE) - 250 YEAR CELEBRATION, Vol. 5 (Opera Gala) Capriccio
C49519
Orchestral
MOZART, W.A.: Don Giovanni / Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail / Cosi fan tutte / La clemenza di Tito [Operas] (Highlights) (Paternostro) Capriole
CA18401
Orchestral
MOZART, W.A.: Opera Gala Capriccio
C51096
Orchestral
MOZART, W.A.: Overtures (Dresden Staatskapelle, Vonk) Capriccio
C71077
Orchestral
MOZART, W.A.: Zauberflote (Die) / Idomeneo [Opera] (Highlights) Capriole
CA18400
Orchestral
TCHAIKOVSKY, P.: Waltzes from Eugene Onegin / Nutcracker / Swan Lake / Sleeping Beauty / Serenade / Symphony No. 5 (Vonk, Wohlert, Urbanek) Capriole
CA15610
Ballet, Orchestral, Ballet





 
 
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