A Brief Conversation With Alan Gilbert

Classic Arts Features   A Brief Conversation With Alan Gilbert
Alan Gilbert will make his debut with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra on March 18. Here he chats about the various projects he is working on leading into his first season at the helm of the NY Philharmonic.

Alan Gilbert's first season as the new Music Director of the New York Philharmonic doesn't begin until September, but he'll be back this spring to lead his hometown orchestra in two programs (Apr 30 _ May 5 and May 7 _9, respectively) that will include his first performance of a Mahler symphony with the orchestra as well as the world premiere of The World in Flower, a new work by composer Peter Lieberson.

Before those concerts, however, Gilbert will return to the podiums of several major orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Mar 5 _10), Hamburg's NDR Symphony Orchestra (Mar 27 _29), and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Apr 18 and 19). Before returning to New York, he will also make his debut with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Mar 18 _21).


Last month you were at a press conference on the stage of Avery Fisher Hall announcing the details of your first season as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic. What did that feel like?

It was an incredible relief to talk publicly about ideas that had been swirling around my head for a year and a half. A music director's first season receives a certain kind of scrutiny that made it feel somewhat pressured, but the fact is that I'm really proud of what we've come up with and I think it's a wonderful season. All of the concerts feature programs that I'd love to hear. It's my hope that the public in New York will feel the same!

You've recently been conducting Mahler's Third Symphony with both the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and the NDR Symphony, and it's one of the first pieces you'll be doing with the NYPO in your first season. Does this work have a special significance for you and does your approach to it differ with each orchestra?

Any time an element in a performance changes, the result will be different. Two different conductors working with the same orchestra will have a different result working on the same piece, and a conductor working on the same piece with two different orchestras will come up with a different result. It's the chemistry of the moment that's important in live performance, which is why it's fun to do the same piece with different orchestras. Doing Mahler Three over the last couple of weeks gave me a chance to experiment. The magnificent last movement can stand a huge range of interpretative choices, and that was fun to play with.

Your May concerts with the New York Philharmonic feature another Mahler Symphony _ the First. Have you done Mahler before with the orchestra, and how does it feel to know that the composer was one of your predecessors on the podium?

The New York Philharmonic has a unique way with Mahler. This will, in fact, be the first symphony of Mahler's that I've done with them. I have, however, done Mahler orchestral songs with them. I've heard them play Mahler my whole life. There are very few places that have such an intrinsic understanding of the world of Mahler and I couldn't be more excited to have the possibility of doing lots by this composer with this great orchestra.

There will also be the world premiere of The World in Flower, a new song cycle by Peter Lieberson, on that program, which features guest soloist mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. Have you conducted Lieberson's music before? And have you worked with Joyce before?

I have never conducted Peter's music, but I know him well and have known him for a long time. He was my composition and theory teacher in Harvard and I've known and loved his music for a long time. Joyce is someone I got to know in Santa Fe when I was conducting the opera there. She's a fantastic artist and is having well-deserved success.

Some critics described your performance of Ives's Fourth Symphony with the New York Philharmonic, a few seasons ago, as a breakthrough. Did it feel that way to you at the time, and what made you program it with the Boston Symphony, where you'll conduct it in early March?

It's an amazing work, and the New York Philharmonic played it brilliantly when we did it during their Ives festival a few seasons ago. One of the reasons for doing it with the BSO was that the orchestra was interested in it. I threw the idea of doing it out there, knowing that few orchestras are willing to take on the enormous logistical challenges the work presents, so I was enormously pleased that they agreed to do it.

Soon after that you make another important return engagement, this time to Berlin to do Martinu's Symphony No. 4 and Dvoršk's Cello Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic.

I can't wait. It will be my second time with an orchestra that I've admired for a long time, so I hope this is the next step in a long relationship.

Interview courtesy of 21C Media Group, Inc.

Alan Gilbert _ Highlights of Upcoming Engagements

March 5, 6, 7, and 10 (Boston, MA)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Sibelius: Night Ride and Sunrise; Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (with Stephen Hough); Ives: Symphony No. 4

March 18, 19, 20, and 21 (Vienna, Austria)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra
Beethoven: "Coriolan" Overture; Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 2 (with Heinrich Schiff);
Bart‹k: Concerto for Orchestra

March 27 _29 (Hamburg [Mar 27 and 29] and Kiel [Mar 28], Germany)
NDR Symphony Orchestra, Hamburg
Maurice Ravel: Daphnis et Chlo_, Suites 1 and 2; Debussy: Three Nocturnes
Program includes Messiaen: Pomes pour Mi (Mar 27 and 29) and Haydn: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in C major (with Roland Greutter _ Mar 28)

April 18 and 19 (Berlin, Germany)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Dvoršk: Cello Concerto (with Steven Isserlis); Martinu: Symphony No. 4

April 30, May 1, 2, and 5 (New York, NY)
New York Philharmonic
Dvoršk: The Golden Spinning Wheel; Saint-SaêŠns: Violin Concerto No. 3 (with Joshua Bell); Martinu: Symphony No. 4

May 7 _9 (New York, NY)
New York Philharmonic
Lieberson: The World in Flower (world premiere of New York Philharmonic commission with Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Russell Braun, baritone; and the New York Choral Artists); Mahler: Symphony No. 1

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