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Alan Gilbert “Sets the Bar High” in First Months as Chief Conductor of Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra

Optimism runs high in Hamburg since Alan Gilbert launched his tenure as Chief Conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra this past fall. “The enormous breadth of offerings” at his four-week inauguration festival “clearly shows how Gilbert plans to stake out his repertoire for the next few years,” writes Klassik Begeistert. His palpable chemistry with the NDR is such that the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung anticipates his “putting Hamburg on the map as a musical center and leading the orchestra into the first rank.” Small wonder that Hamburger Abendblatt considers him one of “the most important bearers of hope on Hamburg’s cultural scene.” Now, besides completing his inaugural season with the orchestra, the Grammy-winning conductor maintains his international presence with returns to the London Symphony Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and Royal Swedish Opera, where he takes the podium for Puccini’s La fanciulla del West.

Praise for Gilbert and the NDR, live and on disc

Gilbert’s opening night concert with the NDR drew a five-star review from Classical Source, which observed:

“Brahms’s First Symphony … was a spacious and sonorous performance, … glorious in the home stretch. … Gilbert found an expressive urgency in the first movement [of Bernstein’s ‘Jeremiah’ Symphony], lamenting and railing, and climactically biblical as a Cecil B. DeMille widescreen. The Scherzo scintillated – feet on hot coals. … Amériques by Edgard Varèse … [was] precise, thrilling, and a suitably blockbuster conclusion to an ambitious programme, … carried off with unstinting flair.”

When the conductor led Magnus Lindberg’s Kraft and two Shostakovich piano concertos with Yuja Wang, Klassik Begeistert exclaimed: “A brilliant evening’s concert. Well done, Mr. Gilbert – keep it up!” Likewise, his leadership of Verdi’s Requiem prompted the same outlet to marvel:

“The orchestra played wonderfully and soulfully. The conductor from New York, Alan Gilbert: a giant. Dear Alan, you are taking this marvelous ensemble to the next level. … Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Timed to coincide with the opening night event, Sony Classical’s release of the conductor’s new recording of Bruckner’s magisterial Seventh Symphony with the NDR drew similarly decisive praise. Calling their performance “suitably majestic yet also bracingly direct and lucid,” the New York Times found: “The orchestra plays with richness, warmth and confidence.” Gramophone magazine agreed:

“The concluding part of the Adagio is especially moving, horns and Wagner tubas voiced with impressive unanimity and depth, and the performance by the solo flute imbued with an otherworldly poignancy. The Scherzo is also extremely persuasive, combining rhythmic buoyancy with inner clarity and a real sense of power. Gilbert’s navigation of the symphonic structure, using the Nowak edition of the score, is clear-sighted and purposeful.”

Classical Source affirmed:

“It’s the Adagio that steals the show here – solemn, eloquent, glowing, intense – Gilbert preparing well for the Moderato section and delivering it with integrity. … Gilbert’s handling of this movement is exemplary; without denuding anything en route to it, he ensures that the climax … is the true high point, followed by a baleful and sad envoi. … His Bruckner 7 ends in a resolute blaze.”

As France’s Classique HD concluded:

“This recording at the Elbphilharmonie is rich in sonority and intensity; Alan Gilbert and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra have everything it takes to bring this symphony to life. … This is a version that combines power and feelings. … It is a pleasure to listen to it. Even when compared to older versions, this album sets the bar high.”

Upcoming engagements in Hamburg, London, Stockholm and Leipzig

Gilbert’s inaugural NDR season continues apace this year. After leading Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady at the orchestra’s festive New Year’s Eve concerts, now he looks forward to conducting Brahms’s Third Symphony (Feb 27–29), Mahler’s Ninth (April 30–May 3) and Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass (April 24 & 25); new music by Sofia Gubaidulina (April 24 & 25) and Unsuk Chin (Feb 20–23); and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances with the NDR Youth Symphony Orchestra Hamburg (March 8). Besides undertaking concerto collaborations with pianist Yefim Bronfman and violinists Lisa Batiashvili and Frank Peter Zimmermann, he and the orchestra launch their “Concerts for Hamburg” series with an all-American lineup featuring Japanese jazz pianist Makoto Ozone (June 25–27).

Gilbert is similarly sought after as a guest conductor. When he made his first appearances with the London Symphony Orchestra, The Guardian ran its review under the headline: “New York maestro hands audience an adrenaline rush,” and The Standard declared, “Judging from Gilbert’s debut concert, a long-term relationship seems likely.” For his return to the orchestra, the conductor leads an all-English pairing of Walton’s Viola Concerto with Tippett’s secular oratorio, A Child of Our Time (June 14).

At Sweden’s Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, where he serves as Conductor Laureate, Gilbert plays viola in chamber works by Schubert and Kaija Saariaho (Jan 19) before leading the Seventh Symphonies of Bruckner (Jan 23 & 25) and Allan Pettersson (Jan 29 & 30). At the venerable Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, with which he previously “blew not just our socks but everything else off” (Independent, UK), he couples Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony with music by Sibelius and Copland (Feb 6 & 7).

Finally, on the heels of operatic triumphs in Hamburg and at La Scala, where he recently led the company premiere of Korngold’s Die tote Stadt, Gilbert rounds out his 2019-20 season with a return to the Royal Swedish Opera for Christof Loy’s treatment of Puccini’s La fanciulla del West, starring celebrated Swedish soprano Malin Byström (May 22–June 7).

Click here for high-resolution photos.


Alan Gilbert: upcoming engagements

Jan 19
Stockholm, Sweden
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra (selected members)
As violist: chamber music recital
Kaija Saariaho: Je sens un deuxième coeur
Schubert: String Quintet in C 

Jan 23 & 25
Stockholm, Sweden
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Unsuk Chin: SPIRA: Concerto for Orchestra
Bruckner: Symphony No. 7

Jan 29
Stockholm, Sweden
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Allan Pettersson: Symphony No. 7

Jan 30
Stockholm, Sweden
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Allan Pettersson: Symphony No. 7
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 (with Inon Barnatan, piano)

Feb 6 & 7
Leipzig, Germany
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Sibelius: Night Ride and Sunrise, Op. 55
Copland: Symphony for Organ & Orchestra
Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F, “Pastoral” 

Feb 20, 21 & 23
Hamburg, Germany (Feb 20 & 23)
Lübeck, Germany (Feb 21)
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
Unsuk Chin: Chorós Chordón
Bartók: The Wooden Prince Suite
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor (with Yefim Bronfman, piano) 

Feb 27–29
Hamburg, Germany (Feb 27 & 28)
Bremen, Germany (Feb 29)
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
Webern: Im Sommerwind, idyll for orchestra
Berg: Violin Concerto (with Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin)
Brahms: Symphony No. 3 

March 8
Hamburg, Germany
NDR Youth Symphony Orchestra Hamburg
Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances

March 25
Stockholm, Sweden
Royal Swedish Opera
Emilie Mayer: Faust Overture
Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F, “Pastoral”

April 24 & 25
Hamburg, Germany
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
Sofia Gubaidulina: The Rider on the White Horse (with Iveta Apkalna, organ)
Dvořák: Violin Concerto in A minor (with Lisa Batiashvili, violin)
Janáček: Glagolitic Mass (with Johanni van Oostrum, soprano; Jan Martiník, bass; Iveta Apkalna, organ; Prague Philharmonic Choir) 

April 30; May 1 & 3
Hamburg, Germany (April 30; May 3)
Lübeck, Germany (May 1)
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D

May 22, 26 & 29; June 1, 4 & 7
Stockholm, Sweden
Royal Swedish Opera
Puccini: La fanciulla del West

June 14
London, England
London Symphony Orchestra
Walton: Viola Concerto (with Antoine Tamestit, viola)
Tippett: A Child of Our Time (with Golda Schultz, soprano; Maya Lahyani, mezzo-soprano; Stuart Jackson, tenor; Michael Mofidian, bass-baritone; London Symphony Chorus; Simon Halsey, chorus director)

June 25 & 27
Hamburg, Germany
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
“Concerts for Hamburg”
Gershwin: An American in Paris
Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story 

June 26
Hamburg, Germany
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
“Concerts for Hamburg”
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (with Makoto Ozone, piano)
John Williams: Star Wars Suite 

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© 21C Media Group, January 2020

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