Press Room

Conversation with Alan Gilbert

On Wednesday, September 16,
Alan Gilbert begins his tenure as the new Music Director of the New York
Philharmonic with a concert from Avery Fisher Hall that will be televised on
PBS’s Live From Lincoln Center.  Though most of the Manhattan-born conductor’s engagements
this season are with his hometown orchestra, he also returns to Hamburg to lead
the NDR Symphony Orchestra in November, and can be heard this month on a new
recording of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. 
The recording, on the BIS label, was made in June 2008 and captures
Gilbert’s final performances as the chief conductor and artistic advisor of the
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. 
The Hybrid Super Audio CD, playable on both standard and SACD players,
is now available for purchase from
and will receive wide release on Tuesday, September 29.

In the conversation that
follows, Alan Gilbert discusses his upcoming programs with the New York
Philharmonic as well as the new recording.


Q:  So you’re back living in New York City.  When was the last time you lived here
in your hometown, and are you nervous about what lies ahead as you begin your
tenure as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic?

AG:  The last time I lived in New York full
time was nine years ago, before I moved to Stockholm.  People have asked me what it feels like to be moving back to
New York for such a challenging job, and I’m happy to say that I don’t feel
particularly nervous – only really excited.  If I’ve learned anything in my years working as a
professional musician, it’s that the secret to controlling your nerves is
showing up prepared.  And that’s
one thing that you can control.  As
for the stuff you can’t control, you need to forget about it!

Q:  This summer, you had triumphs with the New York Philharmonic
in Central Park and in Vail, Colorado. 
It sounds as though you are already in a terrific groove with them.

AG:  We did our first Fantastique [Berlioz’s Symphonie
], which opens the season on September 16, at the orchestra’s
summer home in Vail, and it went beautifully.  The orchestra members are playing with such engagement.  We’re already well into our work finding
the unique sound world that each piece, and composer, inhabits – much further,
actually, than I expected to be at this time.  It’s so exciting that the players are giving so much of what
they have to offer as musicians in such a free and generous way.  It’s incredibly gratifying.

Q:  How
long into your planning of your first season did you choose Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique to be on your opening-night

AG:  The opening-night program came together
early on, but the Fantastique was the
last piece that we put in place for it. 
The Magnus Lindberg premiere [called
] came first; Lindberg is our new composer-in-residence.  Then I had the idea, for whatever
reason, that we should put something French with it.  I spoke with Renée Fleming about doing something unexpected,
like Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi.  I
thought it was a wonderful way for us to show something she hadn’t done in NYC,
and a real statement about the direction we’re hoping to take with the
programming.  It’s also beautiful
music that would not be alienating to anyone.  Renée is famously thoughtful about her repertoire choices, and
she’s been proved right again and again throughout her career, so when she
agreed without hesitation to do the Messiaen, I felt as if we were onto
something good.  With these two
groundbreakers in place, Fantastique went
well with the French thread, and this revolutionary work is as dramatic, fresh
and daring as it was at the time Berlioz wrote it, just a few years after the
death of his idol Beethoven.

Q:  Symphonie fantastique is such a thrilling work, full of very dramatic effects, especially
with the famous “March to the Scaffold” and the “Witches’ Sabbath.”  It’s certainly a great showpiece for
the orchestra playing an opening-night gala.

AG:  My favorite movement, actually, is in
the “Scène aux champs” (Scene in the
country), one of the most profound, stirring, and cosmic in the entire
symphony – a piece that is great from beginning to end.  It’s the highest level of expression in
the whole symphony.

Q:  Your first subscription program [September 17, 18, and 22] features a single, monumental work: Mahler’s Third Symphony.  In the spring and summer you performed
Mahler’s First with the orchestra. 
Why did you decide to do the composer’s Third Symphony so soon in your

AG:  I’ve always wanted to do this piece with
the Philharmonic.  I’d be hesitant
to pin down why I chose to do it at this particular time.  Sometimes you choose something just because
you want to do it!

Q:  Is there anything else in music as beautiful as the last 20
minutes of this piece?

AG:  [Smiles].  It’s a remarkable and very moving work.

Q:  There’s more Mahler coming from you this month: the release
of a recording of his Ninth Symphony with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic that
you made in June 2008 in the last concerts of your tenure as the
orchestra’s Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor.

AG:  It’s a live performance, and enough
time has passed that I was able to listen to it recently – and somehow
dispassionately – and I’m very pleased with how it turned out.  The orchestral playing is top notch and
the sound engineering by the BIS team is very convincing.  I hope listeners will feel, as I do,
that it tells the story of the piece convincingly.

Q:  Where else will you be conducting this season?

AG:  With such a busy schedule in New York,
the only other conducting I’ll be doing this season is in Hamburg [with the NDR
Symphony], where I will be doing four programs.  I’ve conducted the orchestra a lot and we still have a great
freshness in the relationship.  We
also have a quality of mutual understanding that can only happen after a certain
amount of time, so it’s a situation that I’m happy to continue to enjoy.

Q:  What was it like in July to look out from the stage and see
80,000 people listening to you and the orchestra on the Great Lawn in Central

AG:  I really couldn’t imagine a more
perfect New York Philharmonic/New York City event.  The program [Mozart and Beethoven symphonies] was ideal, the
weather was ideal, the audience was amazing.  Where else could you find so many people getting together
for music in such a peaceful community experience?  I don’t think you could duplicate it anywhere else.

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© 21C Media Group, September 2009

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