One of the many virtues of touring for any orchestra is the bonding and cohesion that inevitably develops between musicians and conductor. It's almost exclusively a series of one-night stands, punctuated by an occasional day off : the "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" syndrome. EUROPE / SPRING 2011 : May 12 _24, with eleven concerts in nine Central European cities, all told : involves the sort of touring in which everyone is thrown together as they travel by train, chartered aircraft, or luxury bus from city to city and country to country.
The stabilizing constant is the art itself. "The fact that you are playing the same repertoire under heightened circumstances forces you to discover new things about each other and to take the relationship to the next level : there's something about playing pieces repeatedly that can lead to a very healthy breakthrough," Music Director Alan Gilbert says. "The more musical experiences that the Orchestra and I share, the more I know the musicians and the more they know me."
The bond between Alan Gilbert and the Philharmonic musicians has had ample opportunity for growth, since the upcoming adventure will be the fourth he has led in the two short seasons since he became Music Director, and the third in Europe. This phenomenon is something that he is quick to acknowledge, observing, "I think that that has happened in a very happy and successful way in our previous three tours."
The New York Philharmonic may be the most traveled orchestra in the world : we can leave that for archivists and statisticians to unravel : and recently the pace has grown faster. The Orchestra has gone on the road twice a year, often overseas and during the concert season, for some time now. And that doesn't take into account the annual summertime residency at the Bravo! vail valley Music Festival.
Each tour usually offers something unusual or off the beaten path, whether it be the repertory or the places visited. While the Philharmonic has already appeared in every spot on this upcoming tour, it is the first time that it has performed in any of these cities with Alan Gilbert.
"I am looking forward to showcasing the musicians' brilliant artistry in Central Europe, where much of our tour repertoire : Beethoven, Bart‹k, and Mahler : was composed," the Music Director has said. "Joining us on this tour is Lisa Batiashvili, a longtime friend of the Orchestra and one of my favorite musicians to perform with. She's an impeccable violinist, but also so natural and so sincere in everything she touches. And Thomas Hampson's Kindertotenlieder is really unparalleled," he adds. "I am very gratified that he will join us again in Europe : where he traveled with us last season when he was our Artist-in-Residence : especially following his extraordinary January performances of this Mahler song cycle in New York."
The presence of Mahler on so many of the programs : five all-Mahler concerts, and a sixth with Mahler on the schedule : is no accident. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the great composer-conductor's death (and of his final season as the Philharmonic's music director), not to mention the 150th anniversary of his birth. The Orchestra will play his music in all but one of the cities in Germany and Austria, including an all- Mahler concert at vienna's Musikverein, where he himself conducted, on May 15, three days before the sad anniversary.
Besides Mahler, the repertory for the spring tour includes two violin concertos featuring Lisa Batiashvili, Bart‹k's Second and the Sibelius; add to these Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, Eroica, and you have an altogether rich helping of the European tradition.
Some interesting tidbits: the May 23 performance marks the first time the Philharmonic has returned to Leipzig since the Orchestra's 150th anniversary tour in 1993 under then-Music Director kurt Masur. And Mahler himself led an 11-city tour of the U.S. Northeast during his final season.
Anticipating the upcoming trip abroad, New York Philharmonic President and Executive Director Zarin Mehta refl ects: "The Philharmonic has a long history of performing in Europe, and returning to the birthplace of the symphonic tradition is always meaningful."
As for the extensive time spent traveling, Gary W. Parr, Chairman of the New York Philharmonic, says: "International touring is an integral part of the New York Philharmonic's mission. We are able to fulfill our role of cultural ambassador because we have the visionary and reliable support of Credit Suisse, the Orchestra's Global Sponsor." Antonio Quintella, Chief Executive Officer, Credit Suisse Americas, responds: "We are particularly delighted that this year's tour will offer opportunities for many of our clients and employees in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria to experience the exceptional talents of Music Director Alan Gilbert and the Orchestra's musicians."
But with all the intense schedules, hectic travel, and outreach to audiences associated with concert touring, its heart truly resides in the music and the performances; this is truer than ever in EUROPE / SPRING 2011, with its homage to a former music director. Alan Gilbert, his current successor, says: "Obviously, Mahler has a very special place in this Orchestra's history and psyche, and I can remember many performances of Mahler symphonies that were formative for me." He adds: "To play his music in the countries where he was born and matured, especially on this confl uence of anniversaries, is an honor, and a challenge, one that I embrace enthusiastically."
Peter W. Goodman is an assistant professor of journalism at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y. He is a former music critic for Newsday and New York Newsday, and author of Morton Gould: American Salute (Amadeus, 2000).