Gilbert Kaplan, Mahler expert, has died

Gramophone Mon 4th January 2016

Born March 3, 1941; died January 1, 2016

Gilbert Kaplan devoted himself to Mahler's Second (Photo: Tanja Niemann / The Kaplan Foundation)

Gilbert Kaplan, whose devotion to Mahler, and specifically the Second Symphony, led him to conduct many of the world’s great orchestras and leave a couple of recordings. Having made his fortune by selling the magazine Institutional Investor, which he’d founded in 1967, he devoted his time to exploring Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, a work he’d encountered at a life-changing concert given in 1965 by Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra. 'The music just wrapped its arms around me and never let go,' he told Gramophone in December 2003.

He memorised and learned how to conduct the work – including sessions with Leonard Bernstein and Sir Georg Solti – and in 1982 he conducted the American SO in a private performance at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall: a couple of critics, present as friends rather than in an official capacity, submitted glowing reviews and the Kaplan Mahler Second obsession entered a new phase.

Over the next three decades Kaplan conducted Mahler’s Second with many of the world’s leading orchestras and recorded it twice: once with the LSO for Pickwick and once with the Vienna Philharmonic for DG (employing a new edition he’d made with the Mahler scholar Renate Stark-Voit). His podium skills and technique would remain controversial. Writing of the LSO recording (which sold over 175,000 copies) Michael Kennedy commented (1/89): ‘Having heard him at a concert and now on this recording, no one will persuade me that he cannot conduct Mahler's Second Symphony. An interpretation of this degree of excellence and emotional range cannot be faked by a nod, say, from the orchestra leader. Play any part of this recording to your Mahlerian friends, not saying whose it is, and you will probably receive some surprising answers: the "innocent ear", unafflicted by snobbishness, is more likely to be unprejudiced.’ When the VPO recording was reviewed in December 2003, Andrew Farach-Colton acknowledged Kaplan’s undoubted experience with the work, and his new-found ability to coax out localized beauties but, in conclusion, preferred the LSO account for the way it ‘touchingly and often excitingly conveyed his desire to perform Mahler's score with unflagging exactitude’. Orchestral players remained divided – some responding to his passion for the work, others unconvinced by his ability to control an orchestra. 

Kaplan’s service to Mahler extended beyond performing Maher’s Second and he funded a number of scholarly editions including the facsimile of the symphony, as well as one of the song ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’, from Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, which he owned.

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