The Gilbert era

Living in New York City has been the best experience of my entire life.

And getting to be part of the Gilbert era was one of its highlights.

I’m referring to Alan Gilbert’s tenure as the director of the New York Philharmonic. My affection for this ensemble predates the years I spent in New York (2009-2011). I had always admired tremendously Leonard Bernstein -arguably the ensemble's most popular conductor. During my first visit to New York, one of the first things that I ever did was to walk around the Lincoln Center campus, just to step on the same ground Bernstein must have surely walked on.

But that era is coming to an end: Alan Gilbert is leaving.

Gilbert states that he resigned because, among other things, he didn’t want to go through all the drama of finding a new home for the orchestra, since its current residence (Avery Fisher Hall) needs to go through some remodelling. He also has express his interest of conducting more opera and going back to Europe, where he has led many prestigious orchestras in the past. (He also, and understandably so, wants to spend more time with his family.)

Now that Gilbert is leaving, people (audience, critics) seem to realize the importance of his mandate. In my opinion, Gilbert' greatest achievement was giving back some of the edge the New York Philharmonic had lost under Kurt Masur and Lorin Maazel’s previous leaderships.

The conductor was, above all, bold; he programmed risky music -Stockhausen, Honegger, Berg- while paying homage to the classics -Haydn, Mozart, Bach. He also played works by many remarkable names in the contemporary scene -Adams, Lindberg, Salonen. He  founded Contact!, a new music series and a new music biennial. And last but not least, he played a lot of music written by female composers.

My own experience with Gilbert couldn’t have had a better debut: I got to see his magnificent staging of Ligeti’s Le grand macabre. From the moment he put his baton down, I knew I was taking part in one of New York’s recent music landmarks. And everyone else seemed to agree with me on that.

And the rest of his work that I was able to see was equally outstanding: his rendition of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto will forever inhabit in my memory; I cried my heart out listening to his Mahler’s second symphony; and experiencing his Brahms second symphony was also heart-wrenching.

I also had the great opportunity to hear the New York Philharmonic outside Avery Fisher Hall: I saw it in Central Park, St John’s Cathedral and Carnegie Hall, where he conducted an imposing interpretation of John Adams’ Harmoneliehre. In all of those venues the orchestra sounded superb.

It’s been reported that his ambition for innovation wasn’t neither shared nor backed by some of the orchestra’s executives. I guess that influential people in the management and -I dare to say- some powerful donors among its audience, didn’t like what he intended to develop. Well, you know what? Shame on them! Could you have imagined how Messiaen’s epic opera Saint Francois d’Assise would have sounded had he been given the opportunity to stage it? Those failed expectations break my heart -even when I’m not leaving in the city anymore...

I’m not only disappointed in Gilbert quitting one of New York's finest cultural organizations, I’m also let down by the appointment of his successor. (I’ve been already
vocal about it, by the way.) I only hope I will be proven wrong -I love the orchestra and I wish for it nothing but the best.

Alan Gilbert embodied what New York music-making should be: badass, provoking, refined. It’s a great misfortune that some executives and donors didn’t appreciate him enough.

Thank you, Maestro!


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