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.
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