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Alan Gilbert’s Spring: Hamburg International Music Festival with NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, La fanciulla del West at Royal Swedish Opera & Dates with Cleveland Orchestra & Boston Symphony

Alan Gilbert (photo: Peter Hundert)

Now in his third season as Chief Conductor of Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Alan Gilbert leads the orchestra in three programs at the sixth annual Hamburg International Music Festival, which is dedicated to the theme of “Nature.” After kicking off the four-week festival with Haydn’s The Creation (April 28 & 29), he conducts concert performances of Dvořák’s Rusalka (May 6 & 8) and a program pairing the world premiere of Marc Neikrug’s Fourth Symphony with Emanuel Ax playing Brahms (May 19–22). Later this spring, to conclude his inaugural season as Music Director of the Royal Swedish Opera, Gilbert returns to the Stockholm house for Puccini’s La fanciulla del West, starring celebrated Swedish soprano Malin Byström (June 4–16). Meanwhile the Grammy-winning conductor returns to America in the coming weeks, when he rejoins the Cleveland Orchestra for Chopin, Debussy, Lili Boulanger and Unsuk Chin, again with Emanuel Ax as concerto soloist (April 7–10), and then the Boston Symphony for concerts featuring Joshua Bell and the world premiere of a new BSO co-commission from Bernard Rands (April 14–16).

Hamburg International Music Festival with NDR

Highlighting this year’s fifth anniversary celebrations of the opening of the already iconic Elbphilharmonie, the 2022 annual Hamburg International Music Festival brings together some of the world’s leading artists and orchestras in one of its great musical cities. To celebrate natural beauty and engage with current debates about climate change and the environment, this season’s overarching focus is “Nature.” In keeping with this theme, Gilbert and the NDR launch the festival with two performances of Haydn’s life-affirming oratorio The Creation, featuring soprano Christina Landshamer, baritone Benjamin Appl and the NDR vocal ensemble (April 28 & 29). Their April 29 performance will stream live at 3pm ET (8pm CET) at the NDR’s website, Facebook page & app (NDR EO), with subsequent streaming on demand on YouTube.

Next, Gilbert and the orchestra join the Prague Philharmonic Choir for two concert performances of Dvořák’s lyric fairy tale Rusalka, with an international cast starring American soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen in the title role, Ukrainian tenor Dmytro Popov as the Prince, American mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung as Jezibaba the witch, and Grammy-winning American bass-baritone Eric Owens as Vodnik the water goblin (May 6 & 8).

For their third and final festival engagement, Gilbert and the NDR perform Brahms’s First Piano Concerto, with Emanuel Ax as soloist, alongside the world premiere of Marc Neikrug’s Fourth Symphony, a new NDR commission (May 19–22). As a longtime champion of the American composer’s work, in his previous position as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, Gilbert commissioned and premiered both Neikrug’s Concerto for Orchestra and his Canta-Concerto, of which the conductor “led a glittering, animated performance” (New York Times).

La fanciulla del West at Royal Swedish Opera

Now in his first season as Music Director of the Royal Swedish Opera, Gilbert helms Puccini’s La fanciulla del West in the production originally slated to bow in May 2020. Created by International Opera Award-winning German director Christian Loy, this runs for six performances (June 4–16), headlined by International Opera Award-winning Swedish soprano Malin Byström as the titular gun-slinging heroine. Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko, whose voice is “assured, commanding and a joy to listen to” (Express, UK), sings opposite Byström as her bandit lover, Dick Johnson, with Ukrainian-born American baritone Aleksey Bogdanov, boasting “star power in every way” (Opera News), rounding out their love triangle as Sheriff Jack Rance.

The production marks Gilbert’s first Royal Swedish Opera engagement since leading a winter staging of Wagner’s Die Walküre and commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day with the world premiere production of Mats Larsson Gothe’s post-World War II-themed opera, Löftet (“The Promise”). In the latter, as Bachtrack reports,

“Under the capable direction of Alan Gilbert, the orchestra of Stockholm’s Royal Swedish National Opera provided exemplary support for the singers, setting the scene for the [opera’s] rapid changes of mood with an impressive range of timbral color.”

Recent NDR successes

In January, when Gilbert and the NDR celebrated the fifth anniversary of their new home, the Elbphilharmonie, the international press took note. The Guardian observed, “With ‘Elphi’, as it is affectionately known, the city has a new centre of gravity.” Dubbing the venue “Germany’s sexiest concert hall,” the Berlin Spectator declared: “Its beauty is unbeatable. So is its sound.” The Times of London agreed, pronouncing the building “already iconic” and its acoustics “a revelation,” in a review that continued: “I found it breathtaking, electrifying and democratic, every seat in the hall – I tried many of them – equally favoured, the higher, cheaper seats perhaps most of all.” As the centerpiece of a nine-day festival to mark the anniversary, on the birthday itself Gilbert led the NDR in a special gala program of John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Thomas Adès. This prompted Munich’s BR-Klassik to marvel:

“With his energy and clear conducting, Alan Gilbert transforms the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra into a grooving precision machine. … The space and musical experience merge together, leaving a gripping all-round impression.”

Click here to see Gilbert talk about Hamburg, the Elbphilharmonie, and how much they have both come to mean to him.

Critics also responded warmly to both of Gilbert’s appearances in the NDR’s six-concert February festival, “Age of Anxiety – An American Journey.” As Die Welt observed, the first got off to “a brilliant start”: with soloist Leonidas Kavakos “in dialogue with the terrific orchestra, which is devoted to Alan Gilbert,” Korngold’s Violin Concerto was “an unalloyed joy.” Similarly, the Hamburger Abendblatt found Gilbert’s second program “impressive in every respect.” Noting that “you won’t find higher doses of the ‘American Dream’” than in the final movement of Copland’s Third Symphony, the review concluded: “And that’s exactly what Gilbert, with masterly direction, achieved.

Click here for high-resolution photos.

Alan Gilbert: spring engagements
April 7, 9 & 10
Cleveland, OH
Cleveland Orchestra
L. BOULANGER: D’un matin de printemps
CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Emanuel Ax, piano)
Unsuk CHIN: Rocaná

April 14–16 (plus open rehearsal: April 14 at 10:30am)
Boston, MA
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Bernard RANDS: Symphonic Fantasy (world premiere of BSO co-commission)
BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto (with Joshua Bell, violin)

April 28 & 29
Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg International Music Festival
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
HAYDN: The Creation
(with NDR vocal ensemble; Christina Landshamer, soprano; Benjamin Appl, baritone)
Video livestream: April 29 at 3pm ET (8pm CET) at the NDR’s website, Facebook page & app (NDR EO), with subsequent streaming on YouTube.

May 6 & 8
Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg International Music Festival
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
DVOŘÁK: Rusalka

May 19 & 22: Hamburg, Germany
May 20 & 21: Kiel, Germany
Hamburg International Music Festival
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
Marc NEIKRUG: Symphony No. 4 (world premiere of NDR commission)
BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Emanuel Ax, piano)

June 4, 7, 10, 13, 15 & 16
Stockholm, Sweden
Royal Swedish Opera
PUCCINI: La fanciulla del West

June 24–26
Hamburg, Germany
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
BARTÓK: Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Yefim Bronfman, piano)
STRAUSS: Eine Alpensinfonie (“An Alpine Symphony”), Op. 64
Video livestream: June 25 at 3pm ET (8pm CET) at the NDR’s website, Facebook page & app (NDR EO), with subsequent streaming on YouTube.

July 2 & 3
Hamburg Germany
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Igor Levit, piano)
HINDEMITH: The Harmony of the World

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© 21C Media Group, March 2022


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