Alan Gilbert interview – New York Philharmonic

With the New York Philharmonic preparing to head out on a European tour with mezzo-soprano du jour Joyce DiDonato in April, we caught up with music director Alan Gilbert the very week he announced his intention to leave the orchestra in 2017.

You’ll find our full Spotlight feature in the next issue, but here’s a taster…

Gilbert on his push to explore contemporary and American music with the Philharmonic: ‘There’s a danger, I believe, in thinking that you have to neutralise the harshness or unexpectedness of a less familiar piece with something else. That’s not the reason to combine them; the reason to combine them is to show connections and to create a sense of context, either through similarity or contrast, which allows each piece to have its maximum resonance.’

On touring: ‘What you find with so many touring orchestras is a roster of 10 or 12 pieces that pop up over and over again; what you might consider its ‘obvious’ touring pieces. That’s understandable if you have just one concert in which to show your stuff – you want to make a grand statement. [Rather than] a series of one-night stands, we’re consciously trying to tour in a more strategic way.’

On his decision to leave in 2017: ‘Many of my dreams and aspirations have come true over the last six years. When orchestras become as big as this one, there can arise a tendency – understandably, but in most cases unfortunately – to try to do the sure thing, to wait until market research tells you what your audiences want… There are so many forces at play, you’re at risk of getting stuck with a kind of decision-by-committee approach that can end up watering everything down.’

On audiences and repertoire: ‘Even people who think they want to hear Beethoven all the time will benefit in their Beethoven reception if they understand more about Mahler, or John Corigliano, or whoever. I’ve tried to create a situation where people will say: Well, it’s being presented by Gilbert and the Philharmonic, they have a good track record … let’s go try it out. It’s about bringing along your audience, showing them things they perhaps didn’t know they were interested in.’

On the outlook for the future: ‘Orchestras the world over are increasingly being asked about their relevance… It’s been a tough time; we’ve seen many that haven’t made it through. I think the orchestras that will thrive are the ones that manage to combine a real respect for tradition with a new sense of discovery for the amazing quality and quantity of composition that’s evolving right now in the contemporary classical world.’

Check out our latest issue, complete with IAM’s Competition Guide 2015, for the full Alan Gilbert interview and New York Philharmonic tour preview.