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July 18, 2007

Heartwarming News from New York

Boy, things like this can certainly make you feel your age, and then some! When I came to work at the New York Philharmonic as orchestra manager, in 1978, there was an eleven-year-old boy who rather befriended my nine-year-old son Karl. This other boy was the son of two members of the violin section of the Philharmonic. The two of them palled around a bit on tours, occasionally helped me hand out hotel room keys and boarding passes and the like. And I, along with the rest of the Philharmonic, watched him grow up. Now, for Heaven's sake, he is the newly appointed music director of the Philharmonic. When we learned the news, and I said to my wife "he's 40," we both groaned together, recognizing how time passes...

I stayed in touch with Alan Gilbert after I left the Philharmonic; I heard wonderful things from Tom Morris, executive director of The Cleveland Orchestra, about Alan's time there as assistant conductor. I engaged him for a family concert in Chicago, and enjoyed his conducting and got very positive feedback from musicians at the time. I then saw him conduct again at Aspen, and have seen him in recent years on the podium of both the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Each time it has been clear that this is a young musician (now 40, which is still young by conductor standards) of enormous musical wisdom and knowledge, deeply committed to making music in a warm-hearted and natural way. It is more than heartwarming to see him appointed as the Philharmonic's music director - there is something so right and so natural about it as to reassure one that indeed some things turn out just the way they were supposed to.

Now of course, Alan doesn't begin the position until 2009, and for what I have just written to be true he has to succeed in this highly visible position, where all eyes will be on him. But I'm betting on it. He has had a very successful run as music director of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, an orchestra with a very storied history (such music directors as Antal Dorati, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Fritz Busch, Vaclav Talich, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, and Paavo Berglund have all served in that position, an extraordinarily distinguished roster). At eight years, Gilbert's tenure in Stockholm is the longest since Dorati's (1966-74).

Gilbert is obviously not the first American-born music director of a major American orchestra (Bernstein, Tilson Thomas, Maazel, Levine, Slatkin, Zinman, and others have beaten him to that punch). But what he does represent, at 40, along with the even younger Gustavo Dudamel in Los Angeles, is a different generation. That generation differs in its training, and in the very world in which it grew up - a world of video entertainment and stimulation very different from what the previous generations knew, and a world in which electronic media means something different from discs made of vinyl and running twelve inches in diameter! And a whole new generation of composers is of his time.

It is very gratifying to see the orchestra that broke with tradition in 1958, when it took an astonishing risk by appointing the 40-year old Leonard Bernstein as its music director, doing it again. If they have half the success that they had with that 1958 appointment, they'll have hit a home run.

Posted by hfogel at July 18, 2007 12:38 PM

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Of course, there is also Gilbert's tenure as music director Santa Fe Opera to buff up his opera credentials, in case the NYP tries to continue with concert opera. Plus, it'll be interesting to see how he handles the challenge of the orchestra being effectively homeless when the renovations of Avery Fisher Hall start in 2010 or so, for something like 2-3 years. Perhaps he relishes the thought of such a challenge.

Going back to the rest of the US orchestras trawling for music directors, since we in St. Louis were concerned about the possibility of David Robertson being signed to New York, perhaps, this news tosses the focus back to Chicago and Philadelphia, and for us in St. L. to wonder if "another group" will redouble its efforts to sign Robertson away from us. I certainly have no idea. Mr. Fogel, being a gentleman and a scholar, is of course unable to comment on a question like that, which we all understand. This is all sort of the equivalent in classical music of sports talk.

Posted by: Geo. at July 18, 2007 2:31 PM

When a young Leonard Bernstein was signed as Music Director, it was a new cycle of youthful energy and commitment, and then the age of the maestri went higher through the Mehta, Masur and Maazel years. It seems the cycle begins again. Alan Gilbert is an amazing musician, and has been accepted throughout the world and is indeed ready to take the helm at the NY Philharmonic. We have exchanged cordial emails, since we share collegaues as dear friends, from college years to careerdom. He is a maestro for the 21st century--deeply rooted in tradition, yet openly friendly to the new. Personally, I hope to someday have the special pleasure to make my own Philharmonic debut with Alan Gilbert conducting. I anticipate a brilliant growth period for the orchestra as well as their new music director. This website page offers a nice summary of the New York Philharmonic history of music directors: http://music.aol.com/artist/the-new-york-philharmonic/34367/biography?flv=1&ncid=yInozwVMCu0000000742&icid=rbox_musicians.M

Posted by: Jeffrey Biegel at July 19, 2007 6:21 AM