"I was this little orchestra brat who knew everybody," he told The New York Times. "I find it still amazing that it's come to this."
Gilbert, who will be 42 when he takes over the position, will be the first native New Yorker to be the Philharmonic's music director. (Leonard Bernstein was born in Massachusetts, Lorin Maazel in France to American parents.) Regarding Gilbert's relative youth, the reporter for the Times — several of whose critics have for years campaigned in print for a young and energetic American to be chosen for the job — points out that Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta were about the same age when they began their Philharmonic tenures.
The orchestra's administration formally introduces its next music director at a press conference this morning at Avery Fisher Hall. His contract is for an initial term of five years, and he will conduct at least 12 weeks of concerts each season.
In May Gilbert stepped down as music director of Santa Fe Opera, a position he took up in 2003, and next season he completes an eight-year term as chief conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra (his successor will be Sakari Oramo).
An unnamed source told the Associated Press that Gilbert may commute from Stockholm for the first year or so of his term in New York: his wife is a cellist with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, according to the Times, and they have two young children there.
Born in 1967, Gilbert studied violin and viola at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia (where he occasionally substituted in the Philadelphia Orchestra) and took an undergraduate degree at Harvard. He has a graduate degree in conducting from The Juilliard School, where he studied with Otto Werner-Mueller, and was assistant conductor at the Cleveland Orchestra from 1995 to 1997.
Gilbert's guest-conducting career has soared in the past few years: He has appeared with, among others, the Los Angeles Opera, Zurich Opera and Vienna State Opera as well as the major U.S. orchestras of Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta and St. Louis and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, the Bavarian Radio Symphony in Munich and the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo (where he performs regularly). In 2006 he made an unscheduled — and acclaimed — Berlin Philharmonic debut filling in for an ailing Bernard Haitink. For now Gilbert will evidently remain principal guest conductor of the NDR Symphony in Hamburg, a post he has held since 2004.
Also in 2004, Gilbert, Riccardo Muti and David Robertson each began regular formal guest-conducting arrangements with the New York Philharmonic. Gilbert has now conducted the orchestra in 23 concerts since his 2001 debut there. "Every time he's come here, it's been better than the prior time," Philharmonic president Zarin Mehta told the Times. "We've watched him grow."
(The Philharmonic has offered Muti, who has greatly impressed audiences and players alike in his recent appearances with the orchestra, what is in effect a principal guest conductor appointment, though he did not want either a formal title or a contract.)
At this early stage, Gilbert doesn't want to talk about any specific plans for the Philharmonic, though he did say to the Times that he would like the orchestra to be "connecting with the city in a way that's really fresh and really alive and really current."
Regarding his reputation for innovative and contemporary programming — in Stockholm he has presided over festivals devoted to composers Hans Werner Henze, Henri Dutilleux and John Adams — he told the paper, "I prefer not to hammer the audience over the head with didactic thinking. I prefer to let them find their way. It should be possible, without juicing it up, to let the music help people tap into who they are."