Conductor Alan Gilbert is celebrating an abundance of firsts. In addition to visiting Israel for the first time, he will also be making his debut conducting the Israel Philharmonic.
“Visiting Israel is something I have wanted to do my whole life, but scheduling never gave me the window of opportunity,” the former artistic music director of the New York Philharmonic said during a recent phone interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Gilbert will conduct the Israel Philharmonic in a series of nine concerts in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem.
“Zubin Mehta, (previous music director of the New York Philharmonic and retiring director of the Israel Philharmonic), has been urging me for years to come and play in Israel, and now it is finally happening,” said Gilbert, who led the NY Philharmonic from 2009-2017.
“I grew up in New York City and both my parents [now retired] played violin with the New York Philharmonic. In my mind, the most memorable performances were when the Israel Philharmonic came to New York and performed ‘Mahler Symphony No. 9’ with Leonard Bernstein and ‘Symphony No. 1’ with Zubin Mehta. Over the years, I have felt a lot of kinship with the orchestra, and am delighted to be here as guest conductor.”
Gilbert is bringing the “Nielsen: Symphony No. 3” (“Sinfonia espansiva”) for its first IPO performance. The “Symphony No. 3” was written between the years 1910-1911, and Gilbert thinks that its subtitle, “Sinfonia espansiva,” suggests the composer’s broadening of 19th century musical language and painting a musical landscape whose spirit is wide and grand.
Known for his promotion of contemporary music, Gilbert points out that although this symphony is in the dramatic tradition of the Romantic symphony, the composer is exploring new sounds.
“The audience should not be ‘afraid’ of these new ventures, even though I do not expect the audience to be thrilled 100% of the time,” he said. “For me, the second movement is reminiscent of a scene in nature. Sometimes the stillness of nature, even though beautiful, is a touch boring. Nevertheless, when something does happen, it is significant. It is likewise in music.”
“Therefore, I think it is important for the conductor to speak with the audience,” continued Gilbert. “The conductor’s job is to help the listener get into this spirit; to understand the composer’s intent; to explore these new sounds together.”
Gilbert reflects that new music is not of a separate category, but an added supplement that can enrich and become an eclectic part of one’s musical menu. “It is like learning a new language,” he says. “It takes time, but the results are gratifying.”
Gilbert also posited that music has the capacity to communicate without words in an unparalleled way, and thinks that music can be a positive force in this world where conventional diplomacy can come up short. For his final performance in New York, he invited musicians from all over the world, especially the hotspots, to play together at the United Nations in an expression of shared humanity.
“I would like to build an ensemble, ‘Musicians for Unity,’ made up of a group of artists from around the world,” explains Gilbert, “that would come together on short notice and play concerts which would express hope, peace, and cooperation among diverse people.”
When asked if there was anything he would like to add, he pointed out that he was especially delighted to share his first IPO appearances with pianist Inon Barnatan, who is also making his IPO debut performing Rachmaninov’s “Piano Concerto No. 2,” and violinist Lisa Batiashvilli, performing Prokofiev’s “Violin Concerto No. 2.”
Batiashvilli was the New York Philharmonic artist in residence between 2014-2015 when Gilbert was director.
“Inon Barnatan and I also go back a long way,” said Gilbert, “to our days in New York when we played together with my parents and recorded works of Beethoven together.”
Their admiration society is evidently mutual.
Inon tweeted recently: “This week I am making my debut with the Israel Philharmonic, the orchestra I grew up with as a child in Israel. So happy to be doing it with my favorite musical ‘partner in crime’, (Conductor) Alan Gilbert.”
Performances are in Tel Aviv at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium on February 23, 24 and 27 and in Haifa the Congress Center on February 26.
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