Special Guest post by Alan Gilbert

Albert ImperatoWed 17th February 2010
Alan Gilbert practices his snowball-throwing technique at the Bronx Zoo (photo: Alan Gilbert practices his snowball-throwing technique at the Bronx Zoo (photo: Malin William-Olsson)

New York Philharmomic music director blogs for Gramophone

I paid a visit to Alan Gilbert (who is a client of our company, 21C Media Group) tonight to chat a bit about the press conference that the New York Philharmonic is holding tomorrow to announce its 2010-11 season, his second as the orchestra’s music director. As we chatted (and drank sake and sampled his truly yummy Tuscan bean soup that he invented and cooked) he told me about his remarkable past few weeks. As the story unfolded I thought that what he was saying would make a perfect blog post. The text that follows is entirely his own.

My wife and I are expecting our third child any day now. Preparing for a new kid in a city that is new to us as a family has already given us plenty to think about. It would have been enough without having to do a major European tour with the New York Philharmonic and other subscription performances in NYC as well.

The last month has been frankly surreal with the possibility of Kajsa’s giving birth constantly in the back of my mind. While I was in tour in Europe I didn’t think it was that likely, but I couldn’t ignore the possibility that it would happen. I was relieved when I got back to New York City since at least I knew that I was in striking distance. Even so, it’s been amusing seeing the folks at the New York Philharmonic on high alert preparing for every eventuality – not least Daniel Boico, my assistant, who has been ready to go and take over conducting duties at the drop of a hat (or a baby).

Part of me actually enjoyed the idea of giving Danny the opportunity to have his Carnegie debut, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I had been relishing the chance to do this particular programme with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall.

For I’ve been looking forward to doing these particular pieces in Carnegie for a long time. The Rienzi overture is a piece that I’ve always associated with Carnegie Hall because my father has spoken of a memorable performance of that piece that he played with Leopold Stokowski conducting. My Dad said he’ll never forget Leonard Bernstein listening backstage literally leaping up and down in time with the music – beside himself with the excitement that Stokowski was creating on stage. During my performance thoughts of Lenny, Stokowski and my father, who was in the audience on Saturday night, flashed through my head.

I was also looking forward to doing the Clarinet Concerto of Magnus Lindberg. When we chose Magnus as composer in residence I looked at the history of performances his music has had in the US and I was amazed that the Clarinet Concerto had never been done: how great that we would have the chance to do the US premiere! Early on in programming discussions I said that for our first Carnegie concert during my music directorship I wanted to present this piece, and that it happened was the realisation of a dream. It was particularly gratifying to see and feel the response his work provoked. I think that Magnus and his reputation have assumed their rightful place in the musical life of New York. That this has happened so soon after he became composer in residence is particularly thrilling to me.

A little over a week ago I performed the Sibelius Second Symphony on tour with the Phil in London. It was the penultimate concert performance on a tiring tour, a tour that actually has felt as if it never ended because we came directly into more rehearsals and performances just three days after returning to New York. How the New York Philharmonic is able under adverse conditions to come up with performances that are so fresh and vital amazes me. There was a special excitement that I felt on Saturday night. The orchestra played the work with the commitment and enthusiasm that one would expect at a first performance. And I must say that nothing anywhere equals the electricity and connection one feels as a performer with the audience at Carnegie.

Unusually, I had moments during a performance when I stepped outside of myself and thought of my wife in the audience hoping that the contractions weren’t getting too severe. But mostly I was completely swept along by the power of the music.

We finished the programme with an encore by Sibelius – Valse Triste, one of my favourite pieces of all. I must say – I felt like an honorary Finn, proud to have this connection with this country that has done so much for music.

Now all we have to do is have a baby.

Alan Gilbert, New York City, February 15, 2010

Albert Imperato

Albert Imperato is co-founder of 21C Media Group, a classical music and performing arts PR, marketing and consulting firm. His on-line journal gives a window into the New York music world, as seen through the eyes of a leading PR guru.

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