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Four more years: New York renews its music director

Alan Gilbert has been given a two-year contract extension by the New York Philharmonic, which takes him up to 2016/17, four years from now.

His renewal was a foregone conclusion – to drop him after a single term would be both an admission of failure and unfair to Gilbert, who has greatly refreshed the repertoire after the predictable Maazel years. Neither party had other plans at this stage.

But his is still a tentative leadership, a wait-and-see arrangement. The statements from both sides are notably, and sensibly subdued. (Read them here. ) The glory years are a distant memory.

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  1. Steve de Mena says:

    FYI, his contract was due to expire in 2014, and this extension was for 2 years (until 2016-2017 season). I wonder how attendance and subscription renewals are going in the “Gilbert years” versus Maazel? Hope they have some nice times ahead of them. Sure wish we saw more recordings emanating from US orchestras….

    • Correct. I just couldn’t resist the election chant, ‘four more years!’

      • I suppose you could have used the homonym: “For more years” to avoid being catchy but inaccurate.

    • Steve – you would see more recordings from US orchestras if they priced themselves sensibly to make them. Given what recordings (particularly of symphonic repertoire) sell – or rather, don’t sell – and the margins available in the sale of CDs & downloads, the numbers simply don’t add up to make recordings with US bands: they priced themselves out of the market a considerable time ago.

  2. When Alan Gilbert came to Boston to conduct it was a marvel. I wish he were available for the BSO.

  3. Don Drewecki says:

    Back in late spring the NYPhil’s schedule was announced, including an all-Russian program from two weeks ago. On that program was Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”. I e-mailed Gilbert through the Orchestra’s PR address to urge him to perform Mussorgsky’s actual original, and not the Rimsky rewrite. This original — as anyone knows from Abbado’s two recordings and a live performance by Barenboim and the Berlin Phil a few summers ago — is dramatically different from, and wilder than, the Rimsky rewrite.

    The PR people wrote back, saying mine was a great suggestion and they’d pass it along to him. Along comes the concert and I listened on the radio, and, sadly, it was the Rimsky version. I was very disappointed in Gilbert’s failure to allow poor old Modest to speak for himself in his own language and sound palette.

    • Dr. Marc Villeger says:

      “Night of a Bald Mountain” at the NYPhil… Refreshed repertoire? Give me Maestro Masur’s anytime!

      • The NYPO under Masur (or Maazel, or Mehta before them) didn’t put on such things as staged performances of Ligeti’s Grand Macabre or Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen or such daring and extremely rare items as Stockhausen’s Gruppen (an event I unfortunately missed) and the complete orchestral works of Varese (Ameriques is quite something to be heard live). This has been great stuff, badly needed in NYC.


    • Don, it might have been a practical matter. The orchestra surely already had the Rimsky-orchestrated parts in its library, probably with markings already written in. Even if Alan thought that doing the original was a good idea (and I would imagine that he did), the orchestra’s schedule might not have allowed enough time to rehearse an unfamiliar version of the piece – or there wasn’t enough time to acquire the original orchestration’s scores and parts, if a publisher doesn’t already have them prepared.

      • Don Drewecki says:

        Thanks, MW. My point is that I e-mailed the Philharmonic in April or May about the issue. One orchestra that _might_ have the parts to Mussorgky’s original is the Chicago Symphony, and perhaps the Berlin Philharmonic, which gave it a few summers ago in one of their Waldbuhne concerts. I also agree that Gilbert has recently given Le Grand Macabre and brilliant Nielsen.

        All of the NYP’s recent conductors have put the Orchestra right back on top in terms of technical finesse and polish and beauty. It really is an extraordinary orchestra again, though all of those directors have had numerous interpretive weaknesses and eccentricities.

  4. Bardin Levavy says:

    It seems to me that much of this isses the point. Alan Gilbert has improved immeasurably as an interpreter during his seasons at the Philharmonic..However great Maazel’s technical skills were (and they are most formidible) his interpretations were usually uninteresting and often slack. I also found Masur, while superior to Maazel, a little too Germanic and rigid for my tastes. Alan Gilbert’s conducting over the last two seasons has been a breath of fresh air and, at his age, he promises only to improve.

    I also think it’s unfair to take a single instance, such as A Night on Bald Mountain” and turn it into a symbol. In addition to the repertoire mentioned by Sixtus, Gilbert promises to program Nielsen in quantity, something that hasn’t been seen in New York since Bernstein.

    I give the decision to renew his contract for two more years two thumbs up.

  5. Daniel Farber says:

    Masur, though much maligned for dullness and a shrinking repertory, resurrected the playing standards of the orchestra so that instead of slowly going down the hill into complete medicority it was able to reverse course and again become a first-tier orchestra. It was hard work, without glamor or glitz, but it needed doing. Maazel reaped the benefits, and now Gilbert is creating something interesting for the orc hestra’s audiences. More power to him and a management that was willing to take a chance on someone who was not a marque name. One wonders, though, what Lebrecht considers the “glory years”. Bernstein created “events”, but the execution was often pretty sloppy. Does he mean the Mitrpoulos years? A wonderful expansion of the repertory including some highly underrated Mahler, but again the orchestra took 100 different taxi-cabs to the task. One would have to go back to the Toscanini-led Philharmonic to find a truly frist-rate ensemble. AT left the orchestra in 1936. Were the AT years the glory ones?

  6. A two year contract extension says, ‘We’re looking around for someone else’.

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