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Gilbert: Stockholm “Parsifal” tomorrow; Hamburg Festival & more

Alan Gilbert (photo: Marco Borggreve)

(March 2024) — As Music Director of Stockholm’s Royal Swedish Opera, Alan Gilbert – the
winner of a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording – leads the company’s spring production of
Parsifal, opening tomorrow (March 16–April 18). Now in his fifth season as Chief Conductor of
Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, he conducts the orchestra at the “War and
Peace”-themed 2024 Hamburg International Music Festival. They open the festival with a
program of Schoenberg, Weill, and Ives (April 26 & 27), before pairing Schoenberg’s A Survivor
from Warsaw with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (May 3 & 5). To complete his spring lineup,
Gilbert returns to the Berlin Philharmonic for performances of Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the
Stake (June 6–8), the last of which will – like the NDR’s May 3 concert – stream live to audiences

Parsifal at the Royal Swedish Opera (March 16–April 18)

Appointed last year as Royal Court Kapellmeister by the King of Sweden, Gilbert has been Music
Director of the Royal Swedish Opera since spring 2021. At the Stockholm house, he leads
Parsifal, Wagner’s final opera, in the acclaimed production by International Opera Award-winner
Christof Loy. The six-performance run will star Joachim Bäckström, “a tenor of fabulously virile
elegance” (Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany), in the title role, with baritone Peter
Mattei, Musical America’s Vocalist of the Year 2020, as Amfortas, and the “absolutely outstanding”
mezzo-soprano Miriam Treichl (Seen and Heard International) as Kundry (March 16, 23, 29;
April 1, 13 & 18).

Later this spring, Gilbert returns to the Royal Swedish Opera for five performances of Love &
Chaos – opera confetti in two acts (May 25, 27, 28, 30; June 1). Conceived by the conductor
himself in collaboration with visionary artist-director Doug Fitch, this theatrical evening of
operatic fantasy features music by Mozart, Rossini, Weber, Cimarosa, and P.D.Q. Bach, the
humorous creation of the late Peter Schickele, at Stockholm’s historic Drottningholm Court
Theatre. Gilbert’s previous collaborations with Fitch include a multimedia production of Ligeti’s
Le grand macabre; at the New York Philharmonic, this was hailed as the “Best Classical
Performance of 2010” by New York magazine, and at the NDR, it prompted Germany’s
Hamburger Abendblatt to marvel: “Gilbert creates a sensation!

A major player on the opera scene, Gilbert has helmed productions at legendary houses
worldwide, including Milan’s La Scala, where he conducted a new production of Porgy and Bess
and the company premiere of Die tote Stadt, and New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where his
account of Doctor Atomic was filmed, released on DVD and recognized with a Grammy Award. Of
his semi-staged performance of Das Rheingold with the New York Philharmonic, OperaWire
declared: “It was breathtaking musicianship that truly evoked all the colors that Wagner
wanted for his music.”

Hamburg International Music Festival with NDR (April 26–May 5)

The annual Hamburg International Music Festival brings together some of the world’s leading
artists and orchestras in one of its greatest musical cities. All too topically, the theme of the 2024
edition is “War and Peace.” In keeping with this, Gilbert has chosen to open the festival with
Friede auf Erden (“Peace on Earth”) by Schoenberg, whose 150th anniversary falls next year.
Performed by the Prague Philharmonic Choir, the a cappella choral work will share the
Opening Night program with Ives’s Fourth Symphony, along with Four Walt Whitman Songs,
Weill’s post-Pearl Harbor setting of four of Whitman’s Civil War poems, for which Gilbert and the
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra will be joined by Grammy-winning American baritone
Thomas Hampson (April 26 & 27). The conductor’s live recording of Ives’s symphony came
fourth on Rhapsody’s list of the “Top 25 Classical Albums of 2013,” prompting Seth Colter Walls to
write: “[It] still gives me chills. This is one of the finest Ives recordings in recent memory.”

For their second appearance at the Hamburg festival, Gilbert and the NDR turn once again to
Schoenberg, opening their program with A Survivor from Warsaw. Written in 1947, two years
after the close of World War II and four before the composer’s death, the cantata pays tribute to
victims of the Holocaust. The NDR’s performance will feature narration by French-German actor
Dominique Horwitz and a men’s chorus drawn from the Berlin Radio Choir. Together with a
stellar quartet of vocal soloists – soprano Susanna Phillips, contralto Gerhild Romberger, tenor
Maximilian Schmitt and bass John Lundgren – the full choir will then join the conductor and
orchestra for the message of solidarity and hope offered by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (May 3
& 5; livestream May 3). Gilbert’s way with the work has already won praise; in a rendition at
London’s BBC Proms, he and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra “found Beethoven’s fire, with
clear and controlled playing in the earlier movements giving way to an explosive choral
finale” (The Guardian).

The festival also sees Gilbert take part in “Time’s Echo,” a special event combining a conversation
between the conductor and author Jeremy Eichler with a chamber performance of Richard
Strauss’s Metamorphosen for string septet, featuring Gilbert on violin (May 2).

Joan of Arc at the Stake with Berlin Philharmonic

One of the German orchestras with which Gilbert enjoys an especially close rapport is the Berlin
Philharmonic, whose “musicians have faith in him, letting him unleash his creativity to the
fullest” (Berlin Morgenpost). This June, he returns to the orchestra for three performances of
Honegger’s dramatic oratorio Joan of Arc at the Stake, the last of which will be livestreamed.
Both the story of a woman looking back on her life as she stands trial, and a parable about
corruption and the abuse of power, at its Berlin presentation the oratorio will feature the voices
of the MDR Radio Choir and Vokalhelden Children’s Choir in French director Côme de
Bellescize’s celebrated staging (June 6–8; livestream June 8). It was in the same production,
with the New York Philharmonic and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard in the
non-singing title role, that Gilbert championed the work in 2015, when it was chosen as one of the
year’s ten best classical performances by New York magazine. The New York Times praised the
conductor’s “clear artistic and intellectual mission,” observing: “Under Mr. Gilbert, the
Philharmonic played with glowing sound and rhythmic bite. The performance found a just
balance between richness and restraint.”

Click here for high-resolution photos. Conducts

Alan Gilbert: spring engagements

March 16, 23, 29; April 1, 13 & 18
Stockholm, Sweden
Royal Swedish Opera
WAGNER: Parsifal

April 26–May 5
Hamburg, Germany
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
2024 Hamburg International Music Festival, “War and Peace”

April 26 & 27: Opening Concert
SCHOENBERG: Friede auf Erden (“Peace on Earth”) (Prague Philharmonic Choir)
WEILL: Four Walt Whitman Songs (with Thomas Hampson, baritone)
IVES: Symphony No. 4

May 2: “Time’s Echo”: discussion concert
Gilbert in conversation with author Jeremy Eichler
R. STRAUSS: Metamorphosen for string septet (Gilbert on violin)

May 3 & 5 (plus livestream on May 3)
SCHOENBERG: A Survivor from Warsaw (with Dominique Horwitz, narrator; male members of Berlin
Radio Choir)
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9, “Choral” (with Susanna Phillips, soprano; Gerhild Romberger, contralto;
Maximilian Schmitt, tenor; John Lundgren, bass; Berlin Radio Choir)

May 25, 27, 28, 30; June 1
Stockholm, Sweden
Royal Swedish Opera
Gilbert/Fitch: Love & Chaos – opera confetti in two acts

June 6–8
Berlin, Germany (plus livestream on June 8)
Berlin Philharmonic
HONEGGER: Joan of Arc at the Stake (“Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher”)

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© 21C Media Group, March 2024

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