Alan Gilbert launches his tenure as Chief Conductor of Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra on September 6, when he and the orchestra give a season-opening concert that will stream live at ndr.de/eo and on Facebook, from the NDR’s already-iconic new hall. To mark this momentous occasion, Sony Classical simultaneously releases the Grammy Award-winning conductor’s new recording, on which he and the orchestra perform Bruckner’s magisterial Seventh Symphony.
Highlights of the conductor’s eagerly anticipated first season with the orchestra include a four-week inauguration festival titled #SOUNDSlikeGILBERT (#KLINGTnachGILBERT), world premieres of new commissions from Enno Poppe and Composer-in-Residence Unsuk Chin, ambitious repertoire ranging from Verdi’s Requiem and Magnus Lindberg’s Kraft to My Fair Lady, and symphonies by Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler and Bernstein. Also a guest conductor in high demand, Gilbert returns to the podiums of Japan’s Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, where he serves as Principal Guest Conductor; Sweden’s Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, as the ensemble’s Conductor Laureate; and the London Symphony Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra, where – two years after completing a transformative eight-year tenure as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic – the New York native makes his sole U.S. appearances of the season. Finally, on the heels of operatic triumphs in Hamburg and at La Scala, Gilbert rounds out his 2019-20 season with a return to the Royal Swedish Opera for Puccini’s La fanciulla del West.
First season at helm of NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra
Gilbert’s close collaboration with Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra dates back to their first concerts together 18 years ago. From 2004–15, he was the orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor, and in 2016 they released a new Shostakovich recording together, scoring the conductor his fifth Grammy nomination in 2018. Their singular rapport is such that, even before starting his tenure, Gilbert has already been hailed not only as “a leader full of vigor, working at the height of his art” (Die Welt), but also as one of “the most important bearers of hope on Hamburg’s cultural scene” (Hamburger Abendblatt). Indeed, when he and the NDR toured Asia together last fall, Die Welt marveled: “The chemistry between the musicians and their new director was obvious, that first performance in Japan motivating the musicians and firing up expectations for the downbeat of the 2019 season in Hamburg.”
The conductor and orchestra launch their inaugural season together with #SOUNDSlikeGILBERT (#KLINGTnachGILBERT), a four-week fall festival offering a first glimpse of the musical journey ahead through six programs of traditional and contemporary repertoire. The Opening Night kicks off with Hamburg native Brahms’s First Symphony, followed by the world premiere of Frontispiz für Orchester, a new commission from South Korea’s Unsuk Chin, the NDR’s 2019-20 Composer-in-Residence, and three emotionally charged 20th-century works from Gilbert’s American homeland: Ives’s The Unanswered Question, Varèse’s visionary Amériques, and Bernstein’s First Symphony, “Jeremiah,” which is still rarely heard in Germany (Sep 6 & 7).
Further exploring the tension between tradition and modernity, the festival sees Gilbert lead a program of Haydn symphonies at the orchestra’s former home, the 1908 Laeiszhalle (Sep 19), while the state-of-the-art new Elbphilharmonie hosts his accounts of two Shostakovich piano concertos with Yuja Wang as soloist, coupled with Magnus Lindberg’s path-breaking 1985 epic, Kraft, which the conductor has long championed to acclaim (Sep 12 & 13). Gilbert also joins members of the orchestra on viola for a program of Brahms sextets (Sep 21) and has his own discussion about music and social issues in the orchestra’s new talk series, “IDEAS | On Music” (Sep 11). Finally, anticipating Beethoven’s 250th anniversary next year, he and the NDR juxtapose the composer’s Seventh Symphony and Egmont Overture with a concert overture by Jörg Widmann and Enno Poppe’s new violin concerto (Sep 26–29). Another new NDR commission, Poppe’s concerto will receive its world premiere at this year’s Beethovenfest Bonn (Sep 24). Like the season opener, the September 26 concert will stream live at ndr.de/eo and Facebook.
After the festival, Gilbert and the orchestra continue to showcase an eclectic swathe of seminal repertoire over the course of their first season together. Three cardinal late-Romantic symphonies form a highlight of their upcoming collaborations, with accounts of Brahms’s Third (Feb 27–29), Mahler’s Ninth (April 30–May 3), of which Gilbert’s recording with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic was awarded full marks and proclaimed “stunning … a prime choice among available Ninths” (Classics Today), and Bruckner’s Seventh (Nov 7–17), which Gilbert and the orchestra recorded for Sony Classical this summer, for release on the opening night of the season (Sep 6).
The conductor leads Verdi’s iconic Requiem with the support of the NDR and Berlin Radio choirs and a stellar quartet of soloists including American soprano Angela Meade (Oct 31–Nov 1), who previously took part in the “monumental Requiem” (New York Times) he drew from the New York Philharmonic. Another choral masterpiece with which Gilbert has won accolades, this time with the Philadelphia Orchestra, is Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, which he revisits on an all-Slavic program. Also comprising Dvořák’s Violin Concerto and Sofia Gubaidulina’s potent The Rider on the White Horse (2002), this features the Prague Philharmonic Choir, organist Iveta Apkalna, and Georgian-born violinist Lisa Batiashvili, a frequent collaborator of the Chief Conductor’s, whom he appointed as 2014–15 Artist-in-Residence of the New York Philharmonic (April 24 & 25).
Other highlights of Gilbert’s inaugural NDR season see him lead one of his favorite works – My Fair Lady, Lerner and Loewe’s beloved musical take on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion – at the orchestra’s festive New Year’s Eve concerts (Dec 30 –Jan 1), launch a new series of “Concerts for Hamburg” with an all-American program featuring Japanese jazz pianist Makoto Ozone (June 25–27), conduct an all-Russian program with the NDR Youth Symphony Orchestra (March 8), and launch two new residency programs. The orchestra’s first Conducting Fellow is Petr Popelka and its first Associate Artist is violinist Augustin Hadelich, who, in the first of many NDR appearances over the next three seasons, joins Gilbert and the orchestra for Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto (Nov 7–17).
Guest engagements in Cleveland, Tokyo, London, Stockholm, Leipzig and Dresden
Marking his only U.S. appearances of the season, Gilbert returns to the Cleveland Orchestra, with which he has enjoyed a special relationship since serving as its Assistant Conductor in the mid-1990s. Their most recent collaboration prompted Cleveland.com to declare: “The Cleveland Orchestra with Gilbert displayed nothing but brilliance from front to back.” This season he conducts the orchestra in Brahms’s Third Symphony, Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite, and the Midwest premiere of Thomas Adès’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2018) with Gilmore Artist Kirill Gerstein, for whom the work was written, as soloist (Oct 11 & 12).
Gilbert showcases the British composer’s music again in his upcoming concerts with Japan’s Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, where he serves as Principal Guest Conductor. Their first program features the Japanese premiere of Adès’s Three Studies from Couperin alongside music by Haydn, Liszt, and Bartók (Dec 8 & 9), while their second comprises Mahler’s monumental Sixth Symphony (Dec 14 & 16).
When Gilbert made his first appearances with the London Symphony Orchestra, The Guardian ran its review under the headline: “New York maestro hands audience an adrenaline rush,” and The Standard concluded, “Judging from Gilbert’s debut concert, a long-term relationship seems likely.” For his return to the orchestra, the conductor leads an all-English pairing of Walton’s Viola Concerto with Tippett’s secular oratorio, A Child of Our Time (June 14).
At Sweden’s Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, where he was Music Director for eight years, Gilbert conducts two symphonies: Allan Pettersson’s Seventh (Jan 29) and Bruckner’s Seventh, which he couples with the Swedish premiere of SPIRA, a concerto for orchestra by NDR Composer-in-Residence Unsuk Chin (Jan 23 & 25).
Together with music by Sibelius and Copland, the “Pastoral” Symphony is also the vehicle for the conductor’s return to the venerable Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (Feb 6 & 7), with which he previously “blew not just our socks but everything else off” (Independent, UK) at London’s BBC Proms.
To complete his orchestral lineup, Gilbert leads selections from Smetana’s Má vlast and Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto, with Leonidas Kavakos (Oct 20-22), at the Staatskapelle Dresden, another of the great international ensembles with which he enjoys “incredible chemistry” (Sächsische Zeitung Dresden).
In the opera house: La fanciulla del West, plus recent success stories
Next spring, Gilbert returns to the Royal Swedish Opera for Christof Loy’s treatment of Puccini’s La fanciulla del West, starring celebrated Swedish soprano Malin Byström (May 22–June 7). Already a major player on the opera scene, the conductor has previously led productions at such leading companies as the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Zurich Opera, Vienna State Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and Santa Fe Opera, where he was the inaugural Music Director.
Most recently, he scored twin successes this past season with high-profile productions in Hamburg and Milan. When he returned to La Scala for the company premiere of Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt, the audience and critical response was euphoric. La Repubblica considered him the work’s “ideal conductor,” Parterre called him “one of the greatest assets of this performance,” and both BachTrack and OperaClick pronounced the production a “triumph.” Small wonder that Italy’s Il Sole 24 Ore named Die Tote Stadt “the number one show of the La Scala season.”
Similarly, Gilbert’s leadership of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre at the NDR Elbphilharmonie was hailed as “a sensational hit” (Hamburger Abendblatt) that represented one of the “highlights of the International Musikfest Hamburg” (Deutsche Presse-Agentur). The Pinneberger Tageblatt found the production “breathtaking, thanks to a first-class ensemble and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, which plays brilliantly under Gilbert (a good omen for next season).” As Die Welt concluded: “[Bringing Le Grand Macabre to Hamburg] should be seen and celebrated as Alan Gilbert’s extraordinary inaugural gift to the Hanseatic city.”
New album release: Beethoven with Barnatan & Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Finally, October 18 brings a second new addition to Gilbert’s extensive discography, when Pentatone releases the first volume of the complete Beethoven piano concerto cycle he recorded with Inon Barnatan and London’s Academy of St Martin in the Fields. “One of the most admired pianists of his generation” (New York Times), Barnatan is a longtime musical associate of the conductor, who appointed him as the inaugural Artist-in-Association of the New York Philharmonic. Marking the Academy of St Martin in the Fields’s first recording of the complete cycle, the two-volume set will combine Beethoven’s five piano concertos with a piano transcription of his violin concerto and an account of his beloved Triple Concerto, recorded with Stefan Jackiw on violin and Alisa Weilerstein on cello. The second installment is due for release during next year’s worldwide celebrations of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.