On January 12 the New York Philharmonic announced the Orchestra's 2009 _10 season, Alan Gilbert's first as Music Director. In it Mr. Gilbert will launch a number of innovative programs that build upon the rich legacy of this world-renowned organization. A New York native with long-standing ties to the Orchestra : he is the son of Philharmonic violinists Michael Gilbert (now retired) and Yoko Takebe : he's had years to formulate a singular vision that looks toward the future while drawing upon an illustrious past.
Known for passionate music-making and imaginative programming, Alan Gilbert aims to take the Orchestra's world-class playing to exciting places. He will lead two tours: one to Asia in October 2009, including the Orchestra's Vietnam debut at the Hanoi Opera House, and another to Europe in January 2010. Further, Mr. Gilbert has expanded the Philharmonic's artistic influences by creating several major initiatives: there are two new posts : Composer-in-Residence and Artist-in-Residence : as well as an annual three-week festival curated by a leading guest conductor, and CONTACT, the New York Philharmonic's new-music series.
"Fundamentally and philosophically I believe in building a team to do the work that the Orchestra does," Mr. Gilbert has said about the new Philharmonic positions. "Rather than have a season made entirely of guests, we want to create a family : a kind of home team : that comes back again and again, is very present, and is available for the audience to get to know over a period of time."
He therefore welcomes Magnus Lindberg as Composer-in-Residence. During this two-year appointment, Mr. Lindberg will compose, perform, conduct, give pre-concert talks, and participate in educational programs. He will also be an integral part of CONTACT: he will be involved in extending the commissions for the premieres that will populate the series' first season, and he will conduct one of the programs. (Mr. Gilbert himself will conduct the other.) "When you look at the history of the Orchestra," Mr. Lindberg reflected, "music of our time was always present. One very clear and concrete way of representing contemporary music is to have a Composer-in-Residence who works as a catalyst for our time. I think it's wonderful to have that opportunity."
The other new Philharmonic "player" is the Orchestra's first Artist-in-Residence, baritone Thomas Hampson. During his one-year appointment, this passionate artist, educator, communicator, and music advocate will sing in several programs, including a Philharmonic-presented recital, appear on the Tour of Europe in January 2010, and will participate in lectures and educational activities. "This is the first time I've been an orchestra's Artist-in-Residence," says Mr. Hampson. "Being selected as the Philharmonic's first is a deep honor. It gives me a lot of latitude and a rewarding platform to explore a deeper relationship among words, music, performance, American culture, and the greater musical world."
Another of Mr. Gilbert's initiatives is the introduction of an annual three-week Philharmonic festival that will take a focused look at a particular subject. The first, The Russian Stravinsky (April 21 _May 8, 2010), will be conducted and shaped by Valery Gergiev, director of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, whose chorus will join in many of the concerts. In addition to the Orchestra's performances of a wide range of Stravinsky's works, musicians and scholars will explore the influence of the composer's Russian roots through chamber-music concerts and roundtable discussions. "Stravinsky is a well known composer, and although not everything he composed is performed regularly, people are interested in his lesser-known works as well," observes Mr. Gergiev. "To put three weeks together for concerts devoted to one composer is not something we are used to, and we should all come out of it much richer."
Alan Gilbert's programs throughout the season offer a window into his varied interests. Even before the season officially begins he will preside over the first-ever Philharmonic Open Day, a day of free events for the community that includes an Open Rehearsal, chamber music with Mr. Lindberg and Mr. Hampson, roundtable discussions, and an evening performance. Then, through the Opening Night Gala concert that will be nationally telecast on Live From Lincoln Center, listeners around the country will get a taste of his approach to programming, which combines established and recent repertoire, and highlights pieces in less traditional contexts so that listeners will perceive them in new ways. The first notes that Alan Gilbert will conduct in the season will be of a world premiere composed by Mr. Lindberg; the Opening Night Concert will continue with soprano Ren_e Fleming singing Messiaen's rarely performed Pomes pour Mi, and will conclude with Berlioz's beloved Symphonie fantastique. In the October program that includes Ives's The Unanswered Question : which fades into nothingness : Mr. Gilbert will immediately segue into Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, which emerges from silence. In February he will lead another World Premiere _New York Philharmonic commission, Zhizn by Christopher Rouse, framed between two Mozart works.
Grand gestures will also be on display in Mr. Gilbert's first Philharmonic season. A prime example will take place in May when he will work with a previous collaborator, the director Douglas Fitch, for semi-staged performances of the New York Premiere of Ligeti's only opera, Le Grand Macabre. The production will be cast in collaboration with The Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artists Development Program and the Juilliard Opera; Mr. Gilbert will have coached the young soloists in the work over the course of the season. In addition to developing musicians, he will connect with developing music lovers when he leads six consecutive Philharmonic School Day Concerts in May.
For the weeks in which Alan Gilbert is off the podium, his inaugural season will be enriched by a variety of notable guest conductors. Moscow native Vladimir Jurowski will make his debut, and a host of eminent conductors will return, among them Music Director Emeritus Kurt Masur, Riccardo Muti, Baroque specialist Helmuth Rilling, David Robertson, and Esa-Pekka Salonen. The acclaimed soloists who will appear span the alphabet, from pianists Leif Ove Andsnes and Emanuel Ax to violinists Frank Peter Zimmermann and Pinchas Zukerman. And Philharmonic Concertmaster Glenn Dicterow, Principal Viola Cynthia Phelps, Principal Flute Robert Langevin, Principal Oboe Liang Wang, Principal Bassoon Judith LeClair, Principal Horn Philip Myers, and Principal Trumpet Philip Smith will all take the spotlight as soloists in this celebratory year.
Although Mr. Gilbert has been hard at work for months preparing for his first Philharmonic season, he still stops to pinch himself. "The possibilities that come with the position are tremendous," he says. "When I'm planning programs and thinking of pieces to do, it's sometimes hard to believe that I will eventually be able to perform these pieces with the New York Philharmonic. The reality of being able to play a huge range of music in your own city, as well as on tour, with such a superb group of musicians, is almost impossible to believe."
Karissa Krenz is a freelance arts and entertainment writer.