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Alan Gilbert Celebrates Sibelius on Three Continents This Winter

This winter, Alan Gilbert celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius with leading orchestras on three continents. At the New York Philharmonic, where he is now serving in his seventh season as Music Director, Gilbert reprises his “exciting account” (New York Times) of the Finnish master’s tragic Fourth Symphony (Jan 9) and undertakes his iconic Violin Concerto with Gramophone Artist of the Year Leonidas Kavakos as soloist (March 17–19). With both the Philharmonic (Jan 7–12) and Japan’s Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra (Jan 26 & 27), he leads Sibelius’s stirring tone poem En Saga. And with the Philharmonic (April 20–22; Annual Free Memorial Day Concert, May 30) and Germany’s Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (Feb 25 & 26), where he is already a favored guest, the conductor commemorates the sesquicentennial with programs featuring Sibelius’s mighty yet enigmatic Seventh Symphony.

When Gilbert featured Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony in his most recent program with the New York Philharmonic, the New York Times admired the way his “performance powerfully conveyed the astonishing strangeness of this inventive work; the Philharmonic sounded magnificent.” Similarly, in The Swan of Tuonela, “the tremulous stirrings and elusive episodes of this mysterious 10-minute score sounded utterly original in the glowing performance Mr. Gilbert drew from his players.

The conductor explains: “I think [Sibelius’s] music says something very true about all humanity.” He continues:

“There’s no question that the Fourth Symphony ends sadly. It’s deeply pessimistic and profoundly tragic. It really takes a conscious effort to decide to do this piece because you know that you’re committing yourself to a very, very difficult emotional road, but at the end of the day …, it may be my favorite of the Sibelius symphonies.”

Click here to see Gilbert discuss Sibelius further in this preview video.

The conductor’s winter lineup also showcases music by Sibelius’s compatriot Magnus Lindberg. It was Gilbert who appointed Lindberg as the New York Philharmonic’s inaugural Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence, conducting numerous premieres of his music, and his electrifying leadership of Lindberg’s Kraft at Volkswagen’s Transparent Factory in Dresden remains one of the high points of his tenure to date. Lindberg’s Second Violin Concerto, a Philharmonic co-commission, was written for German violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, who joins Gilbert for the work’s U.S. premiere with the Philharmonic (Jan 14–16) and its French premiere with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France at the new Paris Philharmonie (Feb 19). Another of the contemporary composers Gilbert has most consistently championed is Esa-Pekka Salonen, Lindberg’s latest successor as Composer-in-Residence of the New York Philharmonic, and the conductor gives the New York premiere of Salonen’s Karawane – also a Philharmonic co-commission – with the orchestra (March 17–19).

Further Philharmonic highlights include collaborations with the Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence Eric Owens (Jan 7–12) and Artist-in-Association Inon Barnatan, with whom – alongside Philharmonic principals Carter Brey on cello and Anthony McGill on clarinet – Gilbert plays violin in Messiaen’s transcendent Quartet for the End of Time at the Temple of Dendur at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (March 13). The Israeli pianist also accompanies Gilbert to Japan, taking part in the conductor’s all-Beethoven program with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony (Jan 30).

During his residency with the Japanese orchestra, Gilbert also conducts a program of John Adams, Shostakovich, and Tchaikovsky (Jan 22) and reprises A Ring Synthesis, his own arrangement of selections from Wagner’s “Ring” cycle (Jan 26 & 27). Elsewhere, the music of Schumann figures prominently in his programming, as at the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (Feb 19) and Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, where Gilbert will be joined by celebrated Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes as soloist in the composer’s Piano Concerto in A minor (Feb 25 & 26).

Rounding out the conductor’s winter schedule are two of the works on which he has most memorably made his mark. At the Philharmonic, he reprises Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (Jan 14–16); as the New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini once put it:

“Mr. Gilbert’s account … stood out for me as bracing, organic and elemental. … He reminded us, in a gripping, inexorable performance, that the Rite is not just an evocation of primitivism, but an astonishing musical composition.”

Similarly, at the Cleveland Orchestra, Gilbert takes the podium for Nielsen’s Sixth Symphony (March 3–5). It was under his curatorship that the Philharmonic celebrated the Danish composer’s own sesquicentennial with the multi-season Nielsen Project, named “one of the great successes of Alan Gilbert’s tenure thus far” (New York Times). The project yielded a complete Nielsen cycle on the Dacapo label, of which their recording of the Sixth Symphony made a “fitting conclusion to an impressive new Nielsen cycle” (The Arts Desk, UK).

For high-resolution photos, click here.


Alan Gilbert: winter engagements

Except where noted, the New York Philharmonic concerts listed below take place at David Geffen Hall in New York, NY.

Jan 7, 8, 9 & 12
New York Philharmonic
R. STRAUSS: Selected songs
WAGNER: “Ride of the Valkyries” and Final Scene from Act III of Die Walküre (with Heidi Melton, soprano and Eric Owens, bass-baritone)

Jan 9m
Musicians from the New York Philharmonic
GRIEG: String Quartet
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 4

Jan 14, 15 & 16
New York Philharmonic
RESPIGHI: Church Windows
Magnus LINDBERG: Violin Concerto No. 2 (U.S. premiere of New York Philharmonic co-commission with London Philharmonic Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; with Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin)
STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring

Jan 22
Gunma, Japan
Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
John ADAMS: The Chairman Dances
SHOSTAKOVICH: Cello Concerto No. 2
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 2

Jan 26 (Suntory Hall) & 27
Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
Toru TAKEMITSU: Twill by Twilight
WAGNER (arr. Alan Gilbert): A Ring Synthesis

Jan 30
Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
BEETHOVEN: Coriolan Overture, Op. 62
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 (with Inon Barnatan, piano)
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7

Feb 19
Paris, France
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
SCHUMANN: Manfred Overture
Magnus LINDBERG: Violin Concerto No. 2 (with Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin)
SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 1

Feb 25 & 26
Leipzig, Germany
Leipzig Gewandhaus
(In celebration of Sibelius’s 150th birthday)
Henri Dutilleux: Métaboles
Schumann: Symphony No. 1, “Spring Symphony”
Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 (with Leif Ove Andsnes, piano)
Sibelius: Symphony No. 7

March 3, 5 & 6
Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland Orchestra
SCHUMANN: Manfred Overture
DVORÁK: Piano Concerto (with Stephen Hough, piano)
NIELSEN: Symphony No. 6

March 13
New York, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Temple of Dendur in the Sackler Wing
Musicians from the New York Philharmonic
MESSIAEN: Quartet for the End of Time
Alan Gilbert, violin; Carter Brey, cello; Anthony McGill, clarinet; Inon Barnatan, piano

March 17, 18, 19
New York Philharmonic
SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto (with Leonidas Kavakos, violin)
SHOSTAKOVICH: Suite from The Age of Gold
Esa-Pekka SALONEN: Karawane (NY premiere of New York Philharmonic co-commission with Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Bamberg Symphony, and Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; with New York Choral Artists / Joseph Flummerfelt)

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© 21C Media Group, January 2016

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