Few conductors have had the kind of meteoric rise that Jaap van Zweden has enjoyed. Since taking the helm as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s music director nearly four years ago, the Dutchman has gone from being a relative unknown in the United States to being a sought-after figure who has been invited to guest-conduct for several acclaimed orchestras around the country. The fifty-year-old maestro, who is known for his infectious élan, leads a peripatetic life, bouncing between homes in Amsterdam and Dallas. To stay connected to his wife, their four children, and various colleagues, van Zweden keeps two cell phones—one for Europe, one for the US—and regularly stays after rehearsals at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center to return calls from his office.

About the Items on Jaap van Zweden’s Piano

Mendelssohn was a great composer. I want to put him in the spotlight and play him in a different style, so we slim down the number of orchestra members to make it more intimate, like chamber music.

I sometimes take a little coffee with just a slight bit of milk, but I avoid sugar as much as I can, since it’s very bad for your nervous system. I am onstage almost twelve hours a day, and I don’t like to be influenced by nerves.

I know a few chords on the piano, but I don’t really play. I did play the violin—emphasis on “did.” I want to make sure no one’s going to invite me to come play! I entered Juilliard when I was sixteen to study the violin, and it was a rough ride, but I carry that time as a treasure.

To point out important moments, I use these to mark the music. Sometimes I just use red, sometimes just blue.

I always say that Dallas isn’t my second home, it’s my other home. That’s how I feel about this country too. I’m from the Netherlands, and these two flags are two parts of my heart.

I live at the Ritz-Carlton—it’s the easy life. It’s nice to have someone else take care of the laundry and cooking.

The metronome marks tell us how fast or how slow to play. The tempo is the heartbeat of the music, and it’s not always the same. I try to stick to original tempos, but they change with every performance since the relationships I have with the audience and the musicians are different each evening. So it could be a hair faster or a hair slower.

The chorus gave me this hat as a gift, but I haven’t worn it yet. It’s very Dallas.

In a way, my baton is an extension of my body. There’s a guy in Holland who makes them for me. He also makes them for the Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink.