Mozart's Final Symphonies with Alan Gilbert

The New York Philharmonic

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Mozart's Final Symphonies with Alan Gilbert



Alan Gilbert

Alan Gilbert, former Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, launches a new appointment as chief conductor designate of Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra this fall, shortly after the opening of its already iconic new home. 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 will assume the role of chief conductor in September 2019. 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


Symphony No. 39

Symphony No. 39, K. 543 (1788)

The 39th Symphony is the first in the trilogy of Mozart’s final symphonic masterpieces, composed in just seven weeks and three days in 1788, at a time when his fortunes had crumbled. His biographers have traditionally blamed the fickle Viennese audience or rivalries with other composers for his hardships. Jonathan Kramer, however, believes that the problem might actually lie in the changed nature of Mozart’s writing. “He had begun to move away from ‘social’ music…As his music reflected more and more his inner complexities, his style became too difficult to be assimilated on a first hearing. Listeners were puzzled, and before long their puzzlement turned to rejection.” Without the prospect of commissions, he had to move to cheaper lodgings and beseech friends repeatedly for loans (“…I beg you to lend me until tomorrow at least a couple of hundred gulden, as my landlord has been so importunate…”). But this symphony betrays none of his woes. Passages of grandeur, like the stately introductory adagio, alternate with intimate moments, softened by the mellow sounds of the clarinet he so loved. He calls for two clarinets (but no oboes) that play a delightful duet in the third movement. Still, this symphony has a serious character and paints a landscape suffused with darker harmonies. Much about the K. 543 and its sister-symphonies remains a mystery: why did Mozart compose it and the 40th and 41st without commissions? Were they perhaps intended for a subscription series he was planning in 1788? What orchestra was to perform them? Were the symphonies ever performed in his lifetime? Whatever the answers, the 39th Symphony is one of the masterpieces of the repertoire that anticipates Beethoven’s bold romantic statements, especially the Eroica, with which this symphony shares the E-flat key signature.

Symphony No. 40

Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550 (1788)

In 1788, with Mozart’s career and reputation in decline, his finances in shambles, and with support from noble patrons non-existent, he and his family were forced to move away from the center of Vienna to a cheaper apartment, but one that had a quiet garden attached. (We read heartbreaking letters to his fellow-Mason, Michael Puchberg begging for money.) It was there that Mozart created his three remarkable final symphonies—his “Triple Crown.” He completed the haunting 40th Symphony just one month after his 39th, and the subsequent 41st an astonishing 16 days thereafter. This symphony is one of only two that Mozart composed in a minor key—both in G Minor—with the No. 25 always referred to “The Little G Minor” and the 40th as “The Great G Minor.” Though it has often been suggested that these symphonies were written purely for personal, not practical (i.e., financial) reasons, this has been discounted by some scholars, as has the related notion that they were not performed during the composer’s lifetime. One bit of possible evidence lies in the fact that two versions of the 40th exist: one without, one with clarinets and rewritten oboe parts, indicating that Mozart had, in fact, heard them and rescored them for a second edition. It is possible that he composed them for planned subscription concerts in Vienna (that never took place) and may even have toured them to Germany in 1789. The K. 550 is an outpouring of passion, an utterance of extreme urgency, full of agitation with only slim respite in the exquisite, spiritual slow movement. Yet commentators disagree as to whether this work exhibits “Grecian lightness and grace” (Robert Schumann) or “plunge[s] to the abyss of the soul” (Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein). But there is agreement on this: that the Symphony No. 40 speaks in Mozart’s most personal voice and nearly 225 years after its completion, this masterpiece continues to have a profound emotional impact on listeners.

Symphony No. 41, Jupiter

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