Bravo! Vail: Alan Gilbert Conducts Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet

The New York Philharmonic

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Bravo! Vail: Alan Gilbert Conducts Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet

Recorded July 20, 2014

Bravo! Vail: Alan Gilbert Conducts Romeo and Juliet


Alan Gilbert

Alan Gilbert, former Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, launches his tenure as chief conductor of Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in September 2019. The Grammy Award–winning conductor previously served as principal guest conductor of the orchestra (then known as NDR Symphony Orchestra Hamburg) for more than a decade, and began serving as chief conductor designate in 2017, shortly after the opening of the orchestra’s already iconic new home. This position follows his truly transformative eight-year tenure as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, during which, through such key initiatives as the NY PHIL BIENNIAL, he succeeded in making the Orchestra a leader on the cultural landscape. Alan Gilbert is also conductor laureate of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and the founder and president of Musicians for Unity. With the endorsement and guidance of the United Nations, this new organization will bring together musicians from around the world to perform in support of peace, development, and human rights.

Alan Gilbert makes regular guest appearances with orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Dresden Staatskapelle, and Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. He has led operatic productions for Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Zurich Opera, Royal Swedish Opera, and Santa Fe Opera, where he was the inaugural music director.

His discography includes The Nielsen Project, a box set recorded with the New York Philharmonic, and John Adams’s Doctor Atomic, captured on DVD at The Metropolitan Opera, for which he won a Grammy Award. He received Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Music Direction in PBS’s Live From Lincoln Center broadcasts of two star-studded New York Philharmonic productions: of Sweeney Todd and Sinatra: Voice for a Century.

Alan Gilbert has received Honorary Doctor of Music degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music and Westminster Choir College, as well as Columbia University’s Ditson Conductor’s Award. He is a member of The American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and was named an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. At The Juilliard School, he is the first holder of the William Schuman Chair in Musical Studies and serves as Director of Conducting and Orchestral Studies. After giving the annual Royal Philharmonic Society Lecture on Orchestras in the 21st Century: A New Paradigm during the New York Philharmonic’s EUROPE / SPRING 2015 tour, he received a 2015 Foreign Policy Association Medal for his commitment to cultural diplomacy.

Learn more about Alan Gilbert


Don Juan

RICHARD STRAUSS (1864 -1949)
Don Juan (1888)

The legend of the notorious lover, Don Juan, has been grist for literary and musical mills for centuries. But the brilliant score by the then-just-24-year-old Richard Strauss, already at the top of his game, shows us a Don who is different from most versions of him. Unlike Mozart’s more traditional image of the libertine in Don Giovanni, for example, Strauss’s depiction is based on an unfinished verse-play (written in 1844, published posthumously in 1851) by the dramatist/poet Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850), in which the world-weary hero tires of his search for the ideal of womanhood. In the brief span of around 16 or 17 minutes of intense music, Strauss depicts Don Juan’s character in a flurry of upward-rushing notes—as if he were setting out on yet another quest. Exquisitely beautiful music shows him in two sensuous love scenes. And in eerily scored, shuddering gestures he allows himself to be killed in a duel—an unceremonious demise for the iconic Don. Strauss always demands extraordinary virtuosity from orchestras, and players love to perform his works. The composer wrote to his father (himself a horn player) about the challenges of this tone poem for the Weimar orchestra, which “huffed and puffed…One of the horn players sat there, out of breath, sweat pouring from his brow, asking ‘Good God, in what have we sinned that you should send us this scourge!’…I was really sorry for the wretched brass. They were quite blue in the face; the whole affair was so strenuous.” Think of that, as you listen to Don Juan’s brilliant signature horn calls.

Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks

Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (1894–95)

Among Strauss’s ten tone poems, Till Eulenspiegel is probably the most entertaining and witty — even though this anti-hero meets his demise on the gallows. The title character is a colorful 14th century German folk hero, mischief-maker, and practical joker, the butt of whose pranks were the sanctimonious clergy and self-impressed members of academe. You’ll hear Till’s two “signature tunes,” one stated by the horns shortly after the introductory “Once Upon a Time” music, and another comical one played by the clarinet. Shortly we hear Till galloping through the marketplace and upsetting wares; disguised as a monk preaching a blasphemous sermon (the violas do the job); flirting with girls (the “love theme” is played by the violins); and mocking academics (depicted by the bassoons). When the scallywag has finally been caught, tried, and sentenced, says Strauss, “an ear-splitting roll on the side-drum signals that Till must answer for his ‘crimes.’ Trumpets and drums herald Till’s march to the scaffold, where his merry pranks are ended.” Trombones and tuba signify this bitter end. But don’t shed tears for our hero quite yet: Strauss gives us hope with a reprise of the “Once Upon a Time” music, hinting that Till’s spirit might still be around.


Oboe Concerto

CHRISTOPHER ROUSE (born in 1949 in Baltimore, Maryland)
Oboe Concerto (2004) (New York Premiere) 

Christopher Rouse has had an ongoing relationship with the New York Philharmonic for a number of years; in February 2009, the orchestra gave the world premiere of Odna Zhizn (A Life). This season, our principal oboist Liang Wang solos in the New York premiere of Rouse’s Oboe Concerto, commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra. The number of Rouse’s concertos is impressive—more than ten since 1985: violin, cello, flute, percussion, guitar, and clarinet, plus the Pulitzer Prize-winning Trombone Concerto and Seeing, for pianist Emanuel Ax (both commissioned by the New York Philharmonic). In Rouse’s program notes about the present work he comments, “I have noticed that [my concerti] seem to fall into one of two categories: ‘somber’ (e.g., trombone, violoncello) and ‘genial’ (guitar, clarinet). My oboe concerto…is of the latter variety. (I used to employ the term ‘recreational’ to refer to works of this type until I realized that it would be wrong to create the impression that composing them was a form of recreation. It isn’t; it’s hard work!)” Rouse also explains the nature of the musical material and its demands on the soloist: “There is no overt program to this piece. It aims, of course, to explore the capabilities of the oboe, of which the first in everyone’s mind is its capacity to play long, lyrical lines.” But he did not want “to deny the instrument’s more virtuosic attributes, and so there are plenty of moments when the soloist is asked to play music requiring substantial agility”; as a result, the concerto represents a kind of interplay between those lyrical and virtuosic qualities. A five-note chord in the strings at the beginning is the source for much of the melodic and harmonic material that metamorphoses, by turns, into dreamy, meditative, sensuous, lyrical, and colorful music.

Romeo and Juliet, Overture-Fantasy

Romeo and Juliet, Overture-Fantasy (1869; rev. 1870 and 1880)

Though Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky dipped into the Shakespeare canon several times for inspiration, it is his impassioned treatment of the tale of the star-crossed lovers that is the best-known of these. The music of this compact masterpiece follows the main strands of the tale, opening with a solemn chorale that introduces Friar Laurence and then weaves together the themes of the feuding Montagues and Capulets and the impassioned young lovers. Violent, ferocious crashes of conflict finally lead into the rapturous love theme. After repeated heartbeat-like timpani strikes that slowly die away, the passionate love theme returns (now harmonically turned upside down) only to be cut off — like the lives of Romeo and Juliet — by a dramatic cadence. Friar Laurence’s music returns, and all ends quietly, with harps and soaring strings and a final dramatic timpani roll, giving the listener an opportunity to contemplate the meaning of the tragedy.

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