The High-Flying Dutchmen

Mike Hennessey spotlights the unique Metropole Orchestra

The Metropole Orchestra was founded in 1945 by the Dutch Radio Foundation. It came into being because, after the Second World War, Holland's newly re-established public radio network needed an ensemble capable of producing high quality music programmes covering every genre of light music.

Dolf van der Linden was appointed chief conductor and was given the task of recruiting musicians for the orchestra. He began by contacting top class Dutch musicians who were playing in orchestras all over Europe and inviting them to return to Holland to join the new ensemble.

The son of a music dealer who owned several musical instrument shops, van der Linden took violin and music theory lessons from his father, who was an excellent player, and later studied composition at a music academy. When he was 16, he took a job as a theatre organist and, from 1936 to 1939, he worked regularly as an arranger for various radio orchestras. It was after the war that he concentrated on conducting.

The 17-member Metropole Orchestra made its début on November 25, 1945 and has since won international acclaim as a major institution of the European music community.

There is no other ensemble like it anywhere in the world.

The orchestra today has 52 full time members, all on regular salary with full social security and pension rights. It plays an average of 40 concerts a year and spends about eight weeks a year doing studio productions. It is financed by the Dutch government and has an annual budget of 5.5 million euros.

Dolf van der Linden was chief conductor for three and a half decades, up to his retirement in 1980, and he developed the ensemble into an orchestra which included a full symphonic string section and a conventional big band line-up.

The orchestra rapidly earned a glowing reputation throughout Europe, first through radio and television productions initiated by the European Broadcasting Union, then later through live performances in various countries. To date, the Metropole Orchestra has performed in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Norway, Greece and the United States.

Over the years, the orchestra has worked with a glittering array of world-class vocalists and instrumentalists from the worlds of opera, operetta, musicals, Jazz, rock and pop. But perhaps Dolf van der Linden's greatest achievement was that, in spite of playing in a multitude of musical styles and in constantly changing circumstances, particularly with regard to technical developments, the orchestra always maintained a strong identity of its own.

When van der Linden retired in 1980, he was succeeded by Rogier van Otterloo, the son of the celebrated conductor, Willem van Otterloo. He rapidly brought the orchestra up to speed with the newest developments in music and adopted a double rhythm section policy, one for Jazz and the more traditional forms of light music and one for pop and rock music.

Rogier van Otterloo's involvement with the orchestra came to an untimely end with his death in 1988 at the age of 46. It took a number of years to find a worthy successor and it was in 1991 that Dick Bakker, already a successful composer/arranger, was appointed chief conductor and artistic director.

Bakker studied music at the Hilversum Conservatory and also qualified as a professional sound technician. He has won many international awards and it was with his song, "Ding-a-Dong", that Teach-In won the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest. Since 1982 he has expanded his European activities, composing and arranging music for the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra, among others.

The brilliant Dutch composer and arranger, Rob Pronk, was the Metropoleís guest conductor for 21 years the current principal guest conductor is the Grammy Award-winning Vince Mendoza.

The roll call of artists who have appeared with the Metropole Orchestra over the years is staggering and richly diverse. It includes Charles Aznavour, Burt Bacharach, Kenny Barron, Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett, Michael and Randy Brecker, Ray Brown, Joe Cocker, Natalie Cole, Pete and Conte Candoli, Eddie Daniels, Manu Dibango, CÈline Dion, George Duke, Bill Evans, Clare Fischer, Ella Fitzgerald, Tommy Flanagan, Art Garfunkel,

Gloria Gaynor, Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, Shirley Horn, Freddie Hubbard, Hank Jones, the King's Singers, Lee Konitz, Hubert Laws, Joe Lovano, Vera Lynn, Bob Malach. Andy Martin, Bob Mintzer, Mark Murphy, Peter Nero, the New York Voices, Bill Perkins, Oscar Peterson, Frank Rosolino, Zoot Sims, the Supremes, the Swingle Singers, Lew Tabackin, Clark Terry, Toots Thielemans, Mel Tormé, Sarah Vaughan, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Werner, Andy Williams, Nancy Wilson and the Yellowjackets.

Arrangers and composers who have contributed scores to the Metropole's book include Bob Brookmeyer, John Clayton, Steve Gray, Peter Herbolzheimer, Bill Holman, Chuck Israels, Jim McNeely, Vince Mendoza and Rob Pronk.

The Orchestra today has its own recording studio with the control room built by NOB Audio and the control room acoustics designed by the British company, Recording Architecture. Recordings are made and mixed using a Neve VR Legend 60-channel console and a protools mix cube. In addition, there is a hard disc editing system, the full range of state-of-the-art out-board gear and custom-made ATC monitoring facilities. The whole set-up is designed for Dolby Surround post-production and has projection systems installed for the recording and editing of film and television scores.

For live recordings the orchestra uses Audio 1, a mobile studio with separate recording and machine rooms, which is equipped with a first class SSL console, plus state-of-the-art microphones, outboard-gear and monitoring facilities.

Recordings by the Metropole Orchestra are not that easy to come by, but currently has 21 releases listed on its website, including albums featuring such guest soloists as Claudio Roditi, Swiss saxophonist George Robert, German saxophonist Peter Weniger, trombonist Andy Martin, bassist Chuck Israels, Clark Terry, Dee Daniels, Bill Perkins, Jiggs Whigham and Lew Tabackin.

by Mike Hennessey

All rights reserved. Jazz Now July 2004 issue

Jazz Now Interactive July 2004 Vol 14 No. 3 - Table of Contents