In Memoriam - Hans Vonk (1941-2004) 

The distinguished Dutch conductor Hans Vonk passed away in Amsterdam on August 29, 2004 of complications from Lou Gehrig's disease. A student of the legendary Hermann Scherchen and Franco Ferrara, Vonk held numerous important artistic positions, most notably Principal Conductor of the Dutch National Ballet (1966-1970), Chief Conductor of the Netherlands Opera (1976-1985), Associate Conductor of London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1976-1979), Chief Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic(1973-1979), Chief Conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle and Dresden's Semper Opera (1980-1989), Chief Conductor of the Hague Residentie Orchestra (1980-1991), Chief Conductor of Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra (1990-1996), and, perhaps most significantly, Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony (from 1996-2002). Vonk was a well traveled guest conductor. Among the ensembles he led were the Detroit Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Hans Vonk was not a flamboyant conductor. His beat was clear and concise; his podium manner efficient and businesslike. He believed in letting the music speak for itself.

Vonk always brought great clarity and subtlety to every work he conducted. He also had that unique ability to make an orchestra excel. Under his baton the St. Louis Symphony (already an excellent ensemble after nearly a quarter century under the direction of Leonard Slatkin) played with suave, mellow authority. The warm, rich tone he drew from the strings was typically Central European and breathtakingly beautiful. In two South Florida appearances with the St. Louis Symphony, Vonk led authoritative Brahms and wonderfully idiomatic Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky. Those were concerts to remember! While best known as an interpreter of Beethoven (he recorded the five piano concertos in Dresden with Kristian Zimmerman), Schubert, Mahler, and Bruckner, Vonk had wide musical sympathies. His Tchaikovsky was passionate and balletic. He captured the hazy, Impressionistic magic of Debussy. Vonk was also a champion of contemporary composers. The nonagenarian American composer Elliot Carter considered Vonk one of the best interpreters of his orchestral works. Vonk directed legendary performances of scores by the French mystic Olivier Messiaen. The unique chemistry between Vonk and the St. Louis Symphony is captured on five cds of symphonies by Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler, and Bruckner. These recordings on the Arch Media label are available at Hopefully the orchestra will make available more of his taped concert performances. For Hans Vonk, the composer was always more important than the interpreter. His music making was often memorable! Vonk will be greatly missed.  

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