As Alan Gilbert approaches his third season as the New York Philharmonic's Music Director, he speaks glowingly about the musicians: "The quality I admire perhaps most about the New York Philharmonic is their ability to be totally there every time they sit down on stage to play music together. That translates to a flexibility that allows them to treat an incredible range of styles of music brilliantly. I don't know any other orchestra that has the ability to change its sound quite this effectively."
To highlight that spectacular flexibility, Alan Gilbert and the Philharmonic have announced a 2011 _12 season that is full of compelling explorations, beginning September 21, 2011, with the Gala Opening Night Concert featuring soprano Deborah Voigt in an interplay of vocal and orchestral works by Barber, Wagner, and Richard Strauss. The season is bookended by major works for chorus and orchestra, from Mahler's Resurrection Symphony in the first subscription program, to Mozart's Great C-minor Mass in the final concerts in June 2012. Throughout the season the Music Director will lead symphonies by Brahms, Dvoršk, Nielsen, Prokofiev, and Tchaikovsky in meaningful combinations, such as the pairing of Dvoršk's Symphony No. 7 with the season's first World Premiere.
That work, which will be performed in September _October, is John Corigliano's One Sweet Morning, a song cycle co-commissioned by the Orchestra and written for mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe. The composer's reflection on war in the decade since 9/11 sets texts that meditate on conflict and peace by Czesław Miłosz, Homer, eighth century Chinese poet Li Po, and Yip Harburg. "We look at 9/11 as part of this continuum of war and battle," Mr. Corigliano says. "We're more distant from it, and yet we're very close to it. So this is, ten years later, a kind of perspective of the idea that war is continuing: this piece is about that perspective, and the dream that it might end someday."
The Philharmonic also commissioned Marc Neikrug's Concerto for Orchestra, to be premiered in April, and Thomas Ads' Polaris, which will receive its New York Premiere in January. Mr. Gilbert has developed close relationships with both of these composers : connections that he hopes will inform the works that are even now being composed. Taking the Neikrug work as an example, Mr. Gilbert says: "Since Marc is a good friend, I was able to talk to him about the capabilities of the Orchestra, and the particular colors that he would be able to bring to it. I think this is potentially a very powerful way to deal with contemporary composers."
The composer who currently shares the most intimate partnership with Alan Gilbert and the Philharmonic is Magnus Lindberg, whose tenure as The Marie-Jos_e Kravis Composer-in-Residence is being extended to a third season. "So often as a composer you come and go, and afterwards wonder if it produced an impact," Mr. Lindberg observes. "Here, I don't have to explain myself anymore : the musicians understand my style. I haven't had that kind of a relationship with an orchestra before." In May 2012, Alan Gilbert will lead the World Premiere of the fourth work the composer has written for the Philharmonic: the Piano Concerto No. 2, featuring Yefi m Bronfman, which the Music Director will also conduct on the Orchestra's West Coast tour in May 2012.
Magnus Lindberg continues to oversee CONTACT!, the Philharmonic's new-music series. "I think that CONTACT! fills a real niche that New York City demands," Alan Gilbert says. "People in the audience and composers there are starting to feel that it's an important and inevitable part of the contemporary music landscape, as well as the music scene at large." The series has already led to ten World Premieres, and this season features World and U.S. Premieres by Alexandre Lunsqui, Yann Robin, and Michael Jarrell, coupled with works by former Philharmonic Music Director Pierre Boulez, HK Gruber, and Mr. Lindberg's Gran Duo (December 16 _17 and June 8 _9).
The Music Director's belief in the rewards of musical friendship led him to invite Frank Peter Zimmermann to be the 2011 _12 Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence. "His interest in a range of music is probing and deep, and his ability to bring his unique brand of clarity to everything he does is, I think, staggering," the Music Director says. "He's an amazing artist because he brings something to every piece he does that seems inevitable, it seems absolutely pure." Audiences can experience their chemistry when the violinist joins Mr. Gilbert as the two violin soloists in Bach's Concerto for Two Violins (October 5 _7), and will appreciate Mr. Zimmermann's musicality through concertos by Beethoven, Berg, and Dvoršk; an all-Brahms chamber concert with Philharmonic musicians and pianist Enrico Pace; and a Bach recital with Mr. Pace. Mr. Zimmermann will also travel with Alan Gilbert and the Philharmonic to Europe.
Conductor David Zinman has been invited to share his historically informed approach in The Modern Beethoven: A Philharmonic Festival. Over three weeks (March 1 _20) he will lead six Beethoven symphonies in editions that eschew more than a century of accrued practice to return to Beethoven's original intentions. "I'm interested in coming from where Beethoven came from, rather than where he ended up," Mr. Zinman says. "It's more of a performance practice view, and it makes the symphonies sound fresh, vital, and actually contemporary." The three programs shed light on Beethoven's Classical, Romantic, and dramatic sides, respectively, through the inclusion of a 20th-century concerto, performed by pianist Peter Serkin, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and violinist Gil Shaham.
Over the course of the 2011 _12 season Alan Gilbert presides over the continuing tribute to his celebrated Philharmonic predecessor, the great composer-conductor Gustav Mahler: not only will he conduct the Resurrection Symphony, but he will lead the Ninth Symphony (January 5, 7, 10) and : at Carnegie Hall on May 2 : the Sixth. He has also invited distinguished guests to join him, including Daniel Harding (making his debut this month) to lead Deryck Cooke's edition of the Tenth Symphony in December.
As always, the Philharmonic welcomes a variety of guests to enrich the season, chief among them three former Music Directors: Kurt Masur, Zubin Mehta, and Lorin Maazel, who makes his fi rst visit since stepping down in 2009. Herbert Blomstedt will celebrate his 85th birthday, and Bernard Haitink will return for the fi rst time since 1978. Peter Schreier will make his Philharmonic conducting debut, leading Handel's Messiah, as will Jaap van Zweden, who joins in the Mahler tribute. Michael Riesman makes his debut leading the Orchestra's tribute to Philip Glass's 75th birthday (with the composer and the Philip Glass Ensemble also making their Philharmonic debuts) by performing Mr. Glass's score to the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, while John Williams returns to conduct music from great fi lm scores, including his own.
An unusual, post-season program, co-produced with the Park Avenue Armory, utilizes the Wade Thompson Drill Hall's vast interior to examine works in which space plays a key role. Alan Gilbert will conduct works by Boulez, Mozart, Ives, and Stockhausen that configure the New York Philharmonic into separate groups. The centerpiece is Gruppen, Stockhausen's masterpiece that experiments with sound and divides the musicians into three ensembles, each led by a different conductor : on this occasion, the Music Director and composer-conductors Magnus Lindberg and Matthias Pintscher. Alan Gilbert explains: "Any preconceptions that an audience member has about his or her physical relation to sound is completely left at the door; it's going to be a new way of interacting with the sound and the musicians themselves."
For Alan Gilbert, each and every piece programmed is worth experiencing : even those that audiences believe they already know. "If each person truly approaches the music with sincerity and honesty, I think it will be fresh every time," says Mr. Gilbert, "because great music can be reinterpreted and re-treated and re-experienced. You don't get bored of a particular tree that you have in your backyard, suddenly thinking, _ãÄOh, that's a boring tree now.' It's always going to be a miracle of nature : it's always going to be beautiful. That's how it is with great works of art."
Karissa Krenz is a freelance arts and entertainment writer.