The Music Director, Uncensored

Classic Arts Features   The Music Director, Uncensored
New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert is a man of many ideas and interests, and he has candidly shared his musings on his blog, aptly titled Curiously Random.


His topics have included the Orchestra and its musicians, programming, and tour life, as well as art, family, and fine dining. Here is a taste.

On Being Music Director
I feel lucky to have a job that calls on different capacities and is never boring — not for one second — and I find all the items that cross my agenda engaging, challenging, and fascinating. ... See you soon … I’ve got to read my kids a bedtime story. — “A Day in the Life” (September 21, 2010)

In many ways the analogy of a restaurant to an orchestra could not be more apt: both rely on good will and effective teamwork, and when these elements are in place and functioning well, both are better able to please and fulfill their customers. I was also struck by the behind-the-scenes dimension that reminded me uncannily of experiences I’ve had with orchestras. — “Ruminations and reflections, Lyonnais” (October 17, 2011)

On the Philharmonic Musicians
I’ve often spoken about the uniquely awesome capacity of the New York Philharmonic, but I really must tip my hat to the musicians for what they have done over the last few weeks. ... Touring is demanding from a repertoire standpoint: the Orchestra must juggle multiple programs, which are mixed and matched in different combinations.… I was amazed by what the musicians were able to accomplish considering how much, or little, preparation time we had. — “In Praise of …” (November 16, 2010)

On Auditions
It is incredibly complicated, as it has to accomplish a lot of things. The main one, obviously, is finding the right person, but another integral outcome is the self-referential need to instill and preserve confidence in the process itself. … Holding auditions is the system we have now. It doesn’t necessarily test all the qualities that are essential to function as a consummate orchestral musician, but we are constantly trying to reevaluate it so we can create the most telling process that is possible. — “Continuity” (October 5, 2010)

On Music
What is “greatness”? I have often allowed myself a non-rigorous definition, i.e., “you know it when you see it.” Admittedly, this immediately presents problems, since it relies on recognition as the determining factor, and throughout the history of music, how many composers can we think of who were not considered to be great until many years had passed? … Perhaps time is an important element, though. Further, I guess that I believe that great art often does have the capacity to speak across generations and cultural differences. — “Casual Musings on Top 10s and Greatness” (January 25, 2011)

On Art
I never visit Rome without stopping by St. Peter’s to see Michelangelo’s Pietà [right]. … How is it possible that out of solid rock he was able to fashion something so vibrant, textured, and emotionally piercing? — “Roman Holiday” (February 22, 2011)

On Friends
Arriving at Maestro [Hans Werner] Henze’s villa is like stepping back in time, both because of the actual Roman ruins that surround the house, and also because of the old-world elegance and way of life Henze has maintained. … He is not as mobile as he once was, but he is still the most perfect and charming host. While we were served a splendid meal by his staff — a meal that began with a perfect risotto milanese and ended with “frappe,” a kind of fried dough that puts carnival food to shame — we discussed music, Italian politics, wine, the New York Philharmonic: a host of topics that show how engaged and endlessly curious Henze remains. — “Roman Holiday” (February 22, 2011)

On Audiences
Aside from the splendid playing of the Orchestra night after night [on the EUROPE / SPRING 2011 tour], some of my strongest memories from the tour are the audiences — how intensely concentrated and appreciative they were, and also how distinctly different they were from place to place, culture to culture. Audiences may not always realize how crucial they are in creating mood in a concert, and the great influence they can make on the inspiration, or lack thereof, of the performers. — “What We’ve Been Doing Lately” (June 7, 2011)

On the New York Philharmonic
The New York Philharmonic has long been one of the world’s great orchestras, and my job as Music Director is to preserve and build on this legacy. This means that we will continue to play the widest range of orchestral repertoire as well as it can be played, while at the same time taking risks, striving to add to New York City’s artistic landscape in a way that places this Orchestra squarely at the center of cultural and intellectual discourse. — “Arts and Krafts” (October 12, 2010)

I have been thinking generally about how orchestras define themselves and, specifically, about what the New York Philharmonic means to the public we serve. … More than one audience member came backstage [following a June 2011 performance of Janácˇ ek’s The Cunning Little Vixen] to tell me that the applause for the Orchestra and for me was … also for our vision, and for what this Orchestra is coming to mean for New York City. All of us on stage sense this as well. We feel the support and connection with the audience that is based on this identity — an identity that is, after all, at the very core of our aspiration to be, in the deepest, most meaningful way, New York’s own Orchestra. — “Afterthoughts” (June 28, 2011)

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