Alan Gilbert Ready to Grab the Reins of NY Philharmonic

By Maleshefski, Tiffany | Strings, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Alan Gilbert Ready to Grab the Reins of NY Philharmonic


Maleshefski, Tiffany, Strings


Violinist-turned-conductor plans to usher in a few changes

ALL EYES WILL BE ON CONDUCTOR Alan Gilbert this fall when the 42-year-old violinist officially takes over as music director of the New York Philharmonic this season. He replaces Lorin Maazel, who has held the post since 2002.

Gilbert's longtime relationship with the venerable New York Phil has a familial aspect. Both of Gilbert's parents, who are violinists, have a longstanding relationship with the orchestra: his father, Michael Gilbert, now retired, played in the New York Phil for 30 years; his mother, Yoko Takebe, still plays in the first violin section. You could say that Alan - the first native New Yorker to conduct the ensemble - has spent nearly his entire life with the orchestra, going to concerts and interacting with its many excellent musicians.

Perhaps that's why the conductor is putting so much emphasis on bringing an intimate, personal point of view to his conducting and this season's musical program.

"I want the music making to be human and direct and sincere," says Gilbert, who is scheduled to lead the philharmonic in October at a historic concert in Vietnam. "Much has been written and said about how technically proficient the orchestra is. That's something I obviously want to preserve, but even more than that I want the music making to really mean something for people on a very human individual level. Happily it's not a challenge because musicians in the orchestra are incredibly motivated and want music to feel important, want to be able to put their hearts on the line and to be able to express something about themselves that will be able to transmit and communicate with the audience."

Gilbert, who has a reputation as an adventurous programmer, has found that talking to the authence has proved to be a wonderful opportunity to draw authences in closer to the music and the orchestra. While he doesn't have any drastic plans to change the orchestra's longtime format, Gilbert does see himself explaining his personal responses to certain pieces of music, as well as having other musicians in the orchestra talk about their personal experiences and connections. "We will be doing I guess you can call it a kind of didactic or leading-by-example approach to listening," Gilbert says.

Another unique - and some might say bold - move will be a series of chambermusic concerts during which the music director will put down his baton and pick up his bow. "I'm a violinist. I play violin and viola, and I'm still quite active as a chamber musician," he says. "I just came back from Japan playing chamber music, and I have a chamber music festival, and I take part in other festivals. …

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