“The Gilbert era…has been the most intellectually lively in the recent history of the orchestra.” – New Yorker
In seven years as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert has continued to evolve the role of the modern orchestra; as the New York Times put it, “helping to change the template for what an American orchestra can be.” The eighth and final season of Gilbert’s tenure, which also marks the Philharmonic’s 175th anniversary season, not only honors their shared hometown, but also celebrates this extraordinary legacy. Thus world premieres of new Philharmonic commissions rub shoulders with iconic masterworks and an adventurous opera performance; artistic residencies continue to forge and nurture meaningful musical partnerships; innovative programming explores the ways music can foster global community and positive change; and the conductor and orchestra once again take their vision overseas on their seventh and final European tour together. Meanwhile, as a perennially popular guest of the world’s foremost ensembles, Gilbert returns to the podiums of the Berlin Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Orchestra of the Lucerne Festival Academy, and Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, besides making his staged operatic debut at La Scala. Once again, the season looks to showcase the “unflashy radicalism” with which the conductor has consistently shown himself to be “a force of permanent revolution” (New York magazine).
As Gilbert explains:
“The New York Philharmonic has always been and will always be my musical home. My final season as Music Director – and the Philharmonic’s 175th anniversary season – will present music that the orchestra and I love, and will celebrate New York City, our shared hometown. Looking back on my tenure, I am particularly proud that the projects and collaborative approach I introduced in my first season are now woven into the fabric of the Philharmonic. I will always treasure the sense of warmth and family with the musicians of the orchestra: there’s nothing better than to share the stage with friends. My final weeks encapsulate some of my musical aspirations, with the final subscription program examining a question I see as crucial to the future: how music can be a positive force in a world faced with crises. It speaks in part to what I hope I have accomplished at this great orchestra – to make music an essential part of this city, our world, and people’s lives.”
Farewell season at the New York Philharmonic
To launch his farewell season at the Philharmonic, Gilbert leads the Opening Gala Concert (Sep 21) that pays tribute to their native city. The New York premiere of John Corigliano’s Stomp, for Orchestra shares the program with two key New York works of the past: Gershwin’s Concerto in F, which the Philharmonic commissioned and premiered, with American jazz virtuoso Aaron Diehl, and Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” which the Philharmonic premiered in 1893. This work forms the centerpiece of the orchestra’s season-long New World Initiative, which seeks to make the beloved symphony a cultural touchstone for as many New Yorkers as possible. By way of an upbeat to the new season, for the fourth edition of The Art of the Score: Film Week at the Philharmonic, Gilbert and the Philharmonic – the orchestra that anchored the film’s original soundtrack recording – accompany a screening of Woody Allen’s Manhattan (Sep 16 & 17) with the first live-to-film performance of its classic Gershwin score.
The Music Director’s commitment to contemporary composition is one of the defining hallmarks of his tenure. Marking the first in The New York Commissions – a trio of works commissioned from composers based in the city, writing on New York themes, to be premiered over three seasons – he conducts the world premiere of a new work by Pulitzer Prize-winner Wynton Marsalis, the Managing & Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, which joins the Philharmonic in the performances (Dec 28, 29, 30; Jan 3). Gilbert also leads world premiere performances of a Philharmonic-commissioned violin concerto by award-winning Soviet-Russian-born composer Lera Auerbach (March 1–3) and a Philharmonic co-commissioned piano concerto by HK Gruber (Jan 5–7), the Austrian composer whose comic opera Gloria – A Pig Tale was, as staged under Gilbert’s leadership by Giants Are Small, a highlight of the inaugural NY PHIL BIENNIAL. The two concerto soloists are violinist Leonidas Kavakos and pianist Emanuel Ax, the present and 2012-13 incumbents of the Philharmonic’s Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence position.
This position, together with The Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence, was one of the initiatives launched by Gilbert in his inaugural season as Music Director. It was also he who subsequently introduced the Kravis Emerging Composer and Artist-in-Association positions, and all four partnerships continue to flourish. In the coming season, the second of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s term as Composer-in-Residence, Gilbert conducts the New York premiere of the great Finn’s Cello Concerto, a Philharmonic co-commission, with Yo-Yo Ma (March 15–18), who rejoins Gilbert and the orchestra to reprise the concerto on their EUROPE / SPRING 2017 tour (March 23–April 7). To celebrate these partnerships, the Music Director also leads the New York premieres of Salonen’s Wing on Wing and Aeriality by Kravis Emerging Composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir alongside Kavakos’s account of the Brahms Violin Concerto (May 19, 20 & 23). Other artists of note who will appear with the orchestra under his direction this season include violinist Lisa Batiashvili, Philharmonic Principal Clarinet Anthony McGill, pianists Stephen Hough and Lang Lang, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, and 2015-16 Artist-in-Residence bass-baritone Eric Owens. Together with soprano Renée Fleming, pianist Yefim Bronfman, and violinists Joshua Bell, Pamela Frank and Philharmonic Concertmaster Frank Huang, Ax and Batiashvili are among the artistic luminaries who come together for a festive program to celebrate Gilbert’s 50th birthday, under his own leadership (Feb 23).
Other highlights of the conductor’s Philharmonic season further illustrate the breadth of programming that has consistently characterized his directorship. Key concerts include complete performances of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, with Eric Owens and Jamie Barton heading a star-studded cast (June 1, 3 & 6); a tribute to new septuagenarian John Adams, with whose Doctor Atomic the Music Director scored his first Grammy Award (March 9–11); a creative pairing of Beethoven’s Ninth with Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw (May 3–6 & 9); seasonal performances of Handel’sMessiah, in which Gilbert’s “decisive phrasing, generally brisk pacing and insistence on crystalline textures” previously impressed the New York Times as “magical” (Dec 13–17); and accounts of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony on both sides of the Atlantic, to complete his full Philharmonic cycle of the composer’s symphonies (March 1–4; March 23–April 7). The upcoming “EUROPE / SPRING 2017” tour takes Gilbert and the orchestra back to Luxembourg, Antwerp, Düsseldorf, Essen, Budapest, Vienna, Hamburg, and Copenhagen, crowned by their third residency at London’s Barbican, in repertoire showcasing such season highlights as Salonen’s Cello Concerto, Mahler’s Fourth, and the music of John Adams (March 23–April 7). Making a fitting end to the 2016-17 season and indeed to the Music Director’s eight-year tenure, their Season Finale program features “guest artists from around the world in performances that highlight important international issues and foster the idea of a global community that shares a common humanity.” (June 8–10).
Guest conducting Europe’s top orchestras
Gilbert remains in high demand with the world’s foremost orchestras. At Milan’s La Scala, he helps premiere a new production of Porgy and Bess by stage director Philipp Harnoncourt, starring Morris Robinson and Kristin Lewis, which marks the conductor’s first staged opera with the company and the first time that the original version of Gershwin’s score will be heard there in its entirety (Nov 13–23). As a regular guest of the Berlin Philharmonic, Gilbert leads a program of Tchaikovsky, Bartók, and John Adams, the orchestra’s current composer-in-residence (Dec 2–4). After joining violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter for a program exploring the roots of Modernism at the Lucerne Festival(Sep 4), Gilbert returns to the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra with a pairing of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto, followed by a special “talk and performance” event for which he and soloist Inon Barnatan – the Israeli pianist now launching his third and final season as the New York Philharmonic’s inauguralArtist-in-Association – join German TV personality Malte Arkona (Oct 20–22). In the New Year, the conductor resumes the podiums of the Munich Philharmonic (Feb 2–5), Royal Concertgebouw (Feb 8–11), and Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (Feb 16–18) orchestras, where highlights include the world premiere of a new Concertgebouw commission by Joey Roukens, and a Rome rendition of The Ring Synthesis, Gilbert’s own arrangement of selections from Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
2015-16 highlights at the Philharmonic and beyond
These engagements follow a string of fresh triumphs for the conductor. At the New York Philharmonic, he launched 2015-16 with season-opening events at Lincoln Center’s newly renamed David Geffen Hall, where his leadership of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben drew “pyrotechnic pleasures and swashbuckling sounds” (New York magazine) from the orchestra, and Carnegie Hall, where their program – featuring an “incandescent performance” (New York Times) of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No. 2 – was selected as one of the “Top Ten of 2015” (New York Classical Review). Philharmonic highlights went on to include a “white-hot” (New York Times) account of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; widely celebrated commemorations of the Sibelius sesquicentennial; and the second NY PHIL BIENNIAL, the kaleidoscopic, citywide new-music immersion at which he led premieres by William Bolcom, John Corigliano, Per Nørgård, and the late Steven Stucky, as well as a three-part Ligeti series at the Metropolitan Musuem of Art. As theNew York Times wrote:
“Few of Alan Gilbert’s initiatives as the New York Philharmonic’s music director have been as ambitious, and as successful, as the NY Phil Biennial. It’s not just an extended immersion in contemporary music – that would be admirable enough – but also an endeavor that connects the orchestra with a range of spaces and cooperating organizations.”
Under his curation, the festival featured Gerald Barry’s operatic adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest, prompting the Wall Street Journal to observe: “We can thank the New York Philharmonic and its soon-to-depart music director, Alan Gilbert, for bringing some of the most imaginative opera events of recent years to New York.” Gilbert also led members of the Philharmonic’s brass section at the University of Michigan’s homecoming football game, named one of the best five halftime shows of 2015 (NCAA), and directed the orchestra’s 100th-birthday gala tribute to Frank Sinatra, with such household names as Christina Aguilera, Bernadette Peters, Sting, and Seth MacFarlane. This was subsequently broadcast nationwide on PBS’s Live From Lincoln Center, scoring the conductor his second Emmy Award nomination for Best Musical Direction.
In light of his impending departure from the orchestra, accolades are continuing to pour in. In the New Yorker, Alex Ross declared:
“Gilbert’s record with new music is unambiguously formidable, rivaling that of Leonard Bernstein and Pierre Boulez, the two great visionaries in Philharmonic history. Indeed, Gilbert may have been a more persuasive advocate than either of them, since, not being a composer himself, he could not be accused of serving his own agenda.”
“I already know that I’ll greatly miss the specific spirit of innovation that he has brought to my hometown orchestra,” wrote Seth Colter Walls in the Guardian. “The seemingly selfless, profoundly gifted maestro…will be missed,” agreed Martin Bernheimer in the Financial Times. As Alex Ross put it, “The Gilbert era…has been the most intellectually lively in the recent history of the orchestra.”
Beyond the Philharmonic, last season saw Gilbert make guest conducting debuts with four eminent European ensembles: Milan’s La Scala Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and the London Symphony Orchestra, after which the Guardian ran its review under the headline: “New York maestro hands audience an adrenaline rush.” He returned to Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra, Paris’s Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Symphony, Hamburg’s NDR Symphony, and the Cleveland Orchestra, where he gave “the kind of searing, well-paced, and deeply organic performance” that “demands a cultivated relationship” (Plain-Dealer). Likewise, his leadership of George Benjamin’s opera Written on Skin at the Mostly Mozart Festival was named one of the “Best Classical Performances of 2015” by both New York magazine and the New York Times, which praised the “surging and nuanced performance” he drew from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.
In addition to his Emmy nomination, Gilbert’s achievements were recognized with two new awards. He received anhonorary doctorate from Westminster Choir College, where he served as the 2016 commencement speaker, and was named an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. As the subject of an episode of PBS TV’s celebrated Charlie Rose show, he eloquently described his vision for the evolution of the orchestra in contemporary society and his own plans for the future. Click here to see Gilbert’s appearance on Charlie Rose.