This Season, Alan Gilbert Takes NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra to New Heights in Fourth Season as Chief Conductor; Embarks on Second as Music Director of Royal Swedish Opera; and Returns to Berlin Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony & More
After three seasons as Chief Conductor of Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Alan Gilbert has already begun to “put Hamburg on the map as a musical center and lead the orchestra into the first rank” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). Through adventurous programming, a thought-provoking new festival and regular online streaming, he continues to take the orchestra to new heights this season. Highlights of their 2022–23 engagements include the inaugural edition of “Elbphilharmonie Visions,” a ten-day biennial celebration of today’s new music; symphonies by Mozart, Schubert, Mahler and Tchaikovsky; collaborations with Julia Bullock and Alisa Weilerstein; and works by the conductor’s fellow Americans, such as John Adams, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Margaret Bonds and George Gershwin, whose Porgy and Bess forms a centerpiece of “Love,” the 2023 Hamburg International Music Festival. Beyond Hamburg, 2022–23 sees Gilbert lead Ariadne auf Naxos to open his second season as Music Director of the Royal Swedish Opera, before returning to the podiums of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic, where he undertakes two programs in the orchestra’s 2023 Biennial. To complete his lineup, early next year the Grammy-winning conductor returns to the States to premiere new commissions with both the Boston Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra, with which he also reprises his celebrated account of Nielsen’s Third Symphony.
Fall with the NDR: Mahler, Tchaikovsky and more
To launch his fourth season with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Gilbert leads Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony in Opening Night concerts that feature vocal soloists Christina Nilsson and Sarah Connolly with the NDR Vocal Ensemble and Berlin Radio Choir (Sep 2 & 3). Streaming live at the orchestra’s website and app, the second performance will, like many of its upcoming concerts, be available to home audiences worldwide (Sep 2, 8pm CEST). The conductor also talks about the “Resurrection” Symphony with German news anchor Michail Paweletz in an “About Music” podcast, available at the NDR website and soon to be on YouTube. Gilbert and the NDR subsequently undertake Mahler’s Seventh Symphony (Oct 27–30), and their fall lineup also includes Schubert’s Eighth (Sep 8–11) and Tchaikovsky’s Sixth, the “Pathétique” (3–6), which they will record for future release. Mahler and Tchaikovsky are among the many Romantic composers on whose music Gilbert has already made his mark. His live performance of the “Resurrection” was telecast on PBS’s Great Performances and issued on DVD, while his interpretation of Mahler’s Ninth was named an “Editor’s Choice” by Gramophone, which considers it “the finest recording the work has received.” Similarly, his performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth has been called “galvanic” (New York Times), and his “hypercharged” account of the work was a highlight of the New York Philharmonic’s “blistering Disney Hall debut” (Los Angeles Times). Two December programs complete Gilbert’s NDR lineup this fall: an evening of Mozart and Barber, whose music remains underrepresented in Germany, with MacArthur fellow Alisa Weilerstein as soloist in the American composer’s Cello Concerto (Dec 8–10), followed by a festive New Year’s Eve program. Scheduled to air live on Germany’s ARD TV, this will feature recent Musical America “Artist of the Year” Julia Bullock, who makes her NDR debut in songs by Gershwin and Margaret Bonds (Dec 30–Jan 1).
NDR’s first new music biennial
Dedicated to diversifying the NDR’s programming, Gilbert has founded “Elbphilharmonie Visions,” the orchestra’s ten-day celebration of 21st-century music. Originally scheduled to debut in 2021, but postponed because of the pandemic, this new biennial festival receives its inaugural edition early next year (Feb 2–12). Gilbert, who curated the festival and looks forward to conducting three of its nine programs, explains:“Lots of people believe that contemporary music doesn’t speak to them. But the spectrum of contemporary styles is so huge that it’s impossible to make generalizations in this regard. Music is just as rich and diverse as humanity itself.”His opening-night concert presents the world premiere of Flügel, a new NDR commission from Sweden’s Lisa Streich, the first recipient of the Claussen Simon Composition Prize. Gilbert pairs her work with In This Brief Moment (2020–21) by Grawemeyer Award-winning Australian composer Brett Dean. Featuring soprano Siobhan Stagg, countertenor Patrick Terry, the Hallé Choir and the CBSO Chorus, Dean’s composition is an “evolution cantata” that addresses the ways “human life seems to have developed agency over its own future and perhaps even over that of the planet itself” (Feb 2). Similar environmental concerns inspired Catamorphosis by Iceland’s Anna Thorvaldsdóttir, which Gilbert couples with Let Me Tell You by Denmark’s Hans Abrahamsen. Chosen by Guardian critics as the finest work of the 21st century, Abrahamsen’s orchestral song cycle features soprano Lauren Snouffer (Feb 9). In the festival’s closing concert, Gilbert leads Homunculus by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Scheherazade №2 by John Adams, with Leila Josefowitz as the violin soloist (Feb 12). It was Gilbert who commissioned Adams’s work in his previous role as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, and Josefowicz who joined them for its world premiere, when, as the New York Times reported, she “gave a dazzling and inspired performance, backed by the glittering, rhapsodic and supremely confident playing of the orchestra under Mr. Gilbert.”
Porgy & Bess and more in 2023 Hamburg International Music Festival: “Love”
The 2023 annual Hamburg International Music Festival brings together some of the world’s leading artists and orchestras in one of its greatest musical cities. This season’s overarching focus is the theme of “Love,” from which both Gilbert’s festival programs with the NDR draw inspiration. First, he conducts Schoenberg’s symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande, a setting of Maeterlinck’s doomed love story, alongside Ligeti’s Apparitions and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, featuring Grammy-winner Augustin Hadelich (May 19 & 20). Next the conductor helms two concert performances of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, featuring Kevin Short, Denyce Graves, Chauncey Packer and Nicole Cabell (May 26 & 28). Short, Graves and Packer all appeared in the Metropolitan Opera’s recent hit production of the opera, while Cabell headlined the English National Opera’s recent staging and Gilbert’s leadership of a new Porgy and Bess at La Scala scored a five-star review in the Financial Times, prompting France’s Anaclase to declare: “The great triumphant winner of the evening is Alan Gilbert! His conducting is supple, dancing, tragic, colorful, inventive, lyrical, violent, cheerful, and fierce. In a word: alive.” By way of an upbeat to the coming season, Gilbert leads the NDR, together with a star-studded cast headed by Morris Robinson and Elizabeth Llewelyn, in concert performances of Porgy and Bess at this summer’s 2022 Lucerne Festival (Aug 25). He also joins German news anchor Michail Paweletz to talk about Gershwin’s opera in another “About Music” podcast, available at the NDR website and soon to be released on YouTube. The first podcast in the series, in which Gilbert and Paweletz discuss their shared love of classical music and the violin, may already be seen at both YouTube and the NDR site.
Ariadne auf Naxos and more at Royal Swedish Opera
A major player on the opera scene, Gilbert has led productions at legendary houses worldwide, including the Metropolitan Opera, where his account of Doctor Atomic was filmed, released on DVD and recognized with a Grammy Award. To open his second season as Music Director of the Royal Swedish Opera, Gilbert conducts eight performances of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, starring soprano Christina Nilsson in the title role. The winner of the Renata Tebaldi International Vocal Competition, with whom Gilbert also collaborates on the NDR’s “Resurrection” Symphony, Nilsson sings opposite Wagner competition-winner Michael Weinius as The Tenor/Bacchus in Katharina Jakhelln Semb’s acclaimed production (Sep 28–Nov 2). In the New Year, Gilbert returns to the Stockholm house to conduct an orchestral program (March 11 & 15) and four operatic productions, to be announced shortly (Jan 18–21; March 20–April 6; March 27–April 3; and May 13–June 8).
U.S. engagements: premieres with Cleveland Orchestra & Boston Symphony
A native New Yorker who was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic for eight seasons, Gilbert returns to the States to conduct two of the other “Big Five” orchestras next January. Having shared a special rapport with the Cleveland Orchestra since serving as its Assistant Conductor in the mid-1990s, he recently led the ensemble in “four resplendent performances, each more brilliant in its way than the last” (Cleveland Plain-Dealer). Now they reunite for the world premiere of James Oliverio’s new Timpani Concerto with Principal Timpanist Paul Yancich as soloist. A Cleveland Orchestra commission, this shares the program with Haydn’s 90th Symphony and Nielsen’s Third, (“Sinfonia espansiva”), of which Gilbert’s New York Philharmonic recording was chosen as Gramophone’s favorite recorded version of the work (Jan 5 & 7).
Next the conductor returns to the Boston Symphony for a program of Lili Boulanger, Stenhammar, Dvořák and Justin Dello Joio, whose piano concerto Oceans Apart, a new BSO commission, receives its world premiere performances with its dedicatee, Garrick Ohlsson, as piano soloist (Jan 12–14).
European dates: Berlin Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Bavarian Radio Symphony & more
A guest conductor in high demand worldwide, Gilbert also returns to four of Europe’s most distinguished orchestras. With the Berlin Philharmonic, whose “musicians have faith in him, letting him unleash his creativity to the fullest” (Berlin Morgenpost), he takes part in the orchestra’s 2023 Biennial, which explores the compositional developments of the mid-20th-century. All three works in his program engage with music from the past. Boris Blacher takes one of the violin literature’s most famous themes as the point of departure for his jazzy, virtuosic Paganini Variations; Dutilleux reimagines the Baroque concerto grosso in his Second Symphony; and Barber puts an American spin on the Romantic violin concerto in his own contribution to the genre, for which the conductor and orchestra join forces with superstar violinist Joshua Bell (Feb 23–25). An accomplished and dedicated violinist himself, Gilbert completes his Berlin Biennial residency with a late-night performance of Ligeti’s Horn Trio, also featuring Stefan Dohn on French horn and Kirill Gerstein at the piano (Feb 25).
This marks the conductor’s second Gerstein collaboration of the season, after he and the pianist come together for works by Rachmaninoff and Richard Strauss with the Bavarian Radio Symphony (Oct 20 & 21). Fall also sees Gilbert return to the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra for works by Bartók and Brahms, with Rudolf Buchbinder as soloist in the latter’s Second Piano Concerto (Dec 1 & 2). The Gewandhaus Orchestra is another of the venerable German ensembles where Gilbert is a favored guest; eight years ago, when he led its season-opening performances at home and on tour, their account of Mahler’s Third Symphony was named one of the highlights of the London BBC Proms season by the UK’s Independent, which declared: “Gilbert blew not just our socks but everything else off.” Likewise, their rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth on the penultimate night of the festival “found Beethoven’s fire, with clear and controlled playing in the earlier movements giving way to an explosive choral finale” (The Guardian).
To complete his 2022-23 lineup, Gilbert performs multiple programs with Sweden’s Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, where he serves as Conductor Laureate. He leads the orchestra in fall performances of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, coupled with concertos featuring Inon Barnatan in Mozart (Oct 13) and Yo-Yo Ma in Dvorák (Oct 16) respectively, before helming a week of concerts with the orchestra next spring (April 19–27; details to be announced).
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