Now in his landmark farewell season as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert marks another personal milestone with the orchestra tomorrow (Feb 23), when they join close musical associates Emanuel Ax, Lisa Batiashvili, Joshua Bell, Yefim Bronfman, Renée Fleming, Pamela Frank, and Frank Huang for a festive concert to celebrate his 50th birthday. This star-studded event launches a full Philharmonic spring for the conductor, who leads Artist-in-Residence Leonidas Kavakos in the world premiere of a new violin concerto by Lera Auerbach (March 1–3) and Yo-Yo Ma in the New York premiere of a cello concerto by Composer-in-Residence Esa-Pekka Salonen (March 15–18); a tribute to new septuagenarian John Adams (March 9–11), who is also the subject of and appears as a speaker on a Young People’s Concert (March 11); and accounts of Mahler’s Fourth that represent Gilbert’s seventh Mahler symphony with the Philharmonic (March 1–4). Next, the Music Director and orchestra embark on their ninth international tour together. With 14 concerts in seven countries, EUROPE / SPRING 2017 (March 23–April 7) takes them to Copenhagen, Luxembourg, Antwerp, Düsseldorf, Essen, Hamburg, Budapest, Vienna, and London, where – joined by Yo-Yo Ma for the European premiere of Salonen’s concerto – they undertake their third residency at the Barbican Centre.
Star-Studded Birthday Celebration Concert (Feb 23) For Gilbert, a birthday concert in his final season with the Philharmonic provided the perfect opportunity to celebrate some of the most meaningful musical relationships he had cultivated over the course of their eight-year partnership. He explains: “I’ve learned a lot over the years that I’ve been lucky enough to be Music Director of the New York Philharmonic – but one thing I knew from the beginning was that I couldn’t do it alone. Many of my favorite friends and musicians with whom I love to work will come together. It’s going to be a reunion of sorts, because they are good friends with each other as well. And many of the musicians of the orchestra are very dear friends of mine. When you’re on stage with friends, there’s nothing more you can ask for as a musician. This coming together of kindred spirits and people who love music and who love each other is all you can ask for. I feel very blessed.”
Thus he and the orchestra will collaborate with three past incumbents of the Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence position, as initiated by Gilbert in the inaugural season of his tenure: violinist Lisa Batiashvili and pianists Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman; with violinist Frank Huang, whom Gilbert hired as Concertmaster; with soprano Renée Fleming, whose numerous guest appearances include the season-opening gala that launched his directorship; with violinist Joshua Bell, a Philharmonic Board Member and regular guest artist; and with violinist Pamela Frank, a former classmate of Gilbert’s in Juilliard’s Pre-College Division.
To open the birthday concert, Gilbert conducts all the violin soloists in Bach’s Double Violin Concerto: Huang and Frank in the opening Vivace, Bell and Frank in the transcendent slow movement, and Batiashvili and Huang in the final Allegro. He then leads selections from Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto, with Ax as soloist; Beethoven’s Third, with Bronfman; and Bruch’s First Violin Concerto, with Bell. Bell performs R. Strauss’s “Morgen!” with Fleming, who also gives an account of “Marietta’s Lied” from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt. To complete the program, Gilbert conducts the Philharmonic in Gershwin’s An American in Paris, and Batiashvili joins them for her father’s own arrangement of “Goin’ Home” from Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony, as part of the orchestra’s season-long New World Initiative, which seeks to make the beloved symphony a cultural touchstone for as many New Yorkers as possible.
Later this spring, the Philharmonic honors Gilbert’s milestone birthday and final season once again, with “A Toast to Alan Gilbert,” a free “Insights at the Atrium” event, which will be moderated by the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik (May 24) and co-presented with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. London, Hamburg, Vienna and More on Nine-City European tour (March 23–April 7)
EUROPE / SPRING 2017 allows Gilbert and the Philharmonic to showcase such season highlights as Salonen’s Cello Concerto, the music of John Adams, and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony at a host of cultural capitals. These include London, where their third Barbican Center residency will, in addition to three concerts, feature some of the Philharmonic’s signature educational projects, a Very Young People’s Concert among them.
Gilbert’s commitment to contemporary composition is one of the defining hallmarks of his tenure. Esa-Pekka Salonen, the orchestra’s 2015-18 Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence, is one of those he has most consistently championed, leading numerous performances of the Finnish composer’s music that include LA Variations and the New York Premiere of Karawane, a Philharmonic co-commission. This spring, after joining forces with Yo-Yo Ma for the New York premiere of Salonen’s new Cello Concerto, Gilbert and the orchestra reunite with the cellist to give the work’s European premiere as the centerpiece of their upcoming Barbican residency (April 2), and its German premiere in their first appearance at the new Hamburg Elbphilharmonie, which opened just last month (April 3).
The Music Director is also a leading advocate for John Adams, whose Doctor Atomic was the vehicle for his Metropolitan Opera debut; the New York Times marveled: “The performance he draws from the Met orchestra and chorus is a revelation,” and the production’s subsequent DVD/Blu-ray release won the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. Similarly, Gilbert drew “glittering, rhapsodic and supremely confident playing” (New York Times) from Leila Josefowicz and the Philharmonic in the world premiere of Adams’s Scheherazade.2: Dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra. After honoring the composer’s 70th birthday with a dedicated concert at Lincoln Center, Gilbert showcases his music in Europe with accounts of three major works. Besides performing The Chairman Dances (Foxtrot for Orchestra) in Luxembourg (March 24), Düsseldorf (March 25), London (April 2), and Antwerp (March 23), where the orchestra makes its first appearance for 97 years, they pair Harmonielehre with Absolute Jest, featuring the New York Philharmonic String Quartet – comprising Philharmonic Concertmaster Huang, Principal Associate Concertmaster Sheryl Staples, Principal Viola Cynthia Phelps, and Principal Cello Carter Brey – in Hamburg (April 4). The two pieces also appear on separate programs in London (April 1 & 2).
A noted Mahler interpreter, it was with the Bohemian composer’s Sixth Symphony that Gilbert first convinced “all who heard it that New York City [had] set its own homegrown star on the musical firmament” (New York Classical Review); the conductor’s “inspired” account of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony later drew an “ovation [that] went on for ten minutes” (New York Times). Indeed, when looking back over Gilbert’s Philharmonic tenure, The Guardian’s Seth Colter Walls observed: “I’ll greatly miss the specific spirit of innovation that he has brought to my hometown orchestra. … A 2014 concert that paired Mahler’s Symphony No 1 with a riotous new clarinet concerto by Unsuk Chin is just one of the great Gilbert-led concerts that didn’t grab enough attention.”
For accounts of Mahler’s Fourth, Gilbert and the orchestra join German soprano Christina Landshamer in New York and on tour in Essen (March 26), Budapest (March 28), London (March 31), Hamburg (April 3), Copenhagen (April 6), and Vienna, the artistic melting pot where Mahler was based when he composed it (March 29).
Another superlative German soloist featured on the upcoming tour is violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, whose association with Gilbert is of long standing. The Music Director appointed Zimmermann as the Philharmonic’s 2011-12 Artist-in-Residence, and recently reunited with him for Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic. They join forces once again for another great early 20th-century violin concerto, performing Prokofiev’s First in Antwerp (March 23), Luxembourg (March 24), Düsseldorf (March 25), and Copenhagen (April 7).
The Copenhagen concert is one of a pair that mark the Philharmonic’s first return to the Danish capital since 1968, when Leonard Bernstein led a program there that included Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. Gilbert, whose way with Berlioz’s masterpiece wowed the Hamburg press when he performed it three years ago as Principal Guest Conductor of the NDR Symphony, looks forward to reprising it in Copenhagen (April 7), as well as in Antwerp (March 23), Luxembourg (March 24), Düsseldorf (March 25), and London (April 1).
To complete their EUROPE / SPRING 2017 lineup, Gilbert and the Philharmonic reprise their account of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta – with which New Yorkers were recently “treated to an excellent performance, achingly sustained in the opening Andante, vibrantly taut and energetic in the Allegros” (New York Times) – in Essen (March 26), Vienna (March 29), London (March 31), Copenhagen (April 6), and Budapest (March 28), capital of the composer’s homeland.