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Berliner Zeitung Hails Alan Gilbert’s ‘Direct, Forward’ Conducting of Berlin Philharmonic

Alan Gilbert Berlin Philharmonic

Alan's back from Germany! Read all about it:

After launching the season with the Gewandhaus Orchestra, at its Leipzig home and on a tour of European music capitals and festivals, Music Director Alan Gilbert returned to Germany in mid-November to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, and Hamburg's NDR Symphony Orchestra.

On November 21–23, Alan led the Berlin Philharmonic in a program of Bach's Cantata Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid BWV 58, Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony, and Nielsen's Symphony No. 3, Sinfonia expansiva. Watch the concert (trailer free; subscribe for full access).

  • Berliner Zeitung said, "Gilbert's conducting is of great physical presence … very direct, muscular and dynamically forward. ... [O]ne can hear a distinctive musical instinct ... a natural force, that has become rare in our times of overbred musical culture…"
  • Inforadio Berlin praised Gilbert's "great virtuosity of musical colors."

On November 10–13, Alan conducted the Munich Philharmonic in a program of Beethoven's Symphony No. 1, Debussy's Images, and Respighi's Fountains of Rome. 

  • Süddeutsche Zeitung noted Gilbert's "fabulous, touchable music-making."
  • Münchner Merkur praised the "steadily growing tension" in the Beethoven and the "athmospheric woodwinds" in the Respighi and Debussy.

In Hamburg on December 4 and 7 and Lübeck on December 5, Gilbert led the NDR Symphony in the world premiere of Thierry Escaich's Concerto for Violin, Oboe, and Orchestra, featuring New York Philharmonic Artist-in-Residence Lisa Batiashvili and oboist Francois Leleux, and Thomas Adès's Three Studies from Couperin and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique. Escaich's concerto is a co-commission by the NDR and the New York Philharmonic and receives its US premiere in April at Avery Fisher Hall.

  • Hamburger Abendblatt said of Gilbert, “Only a few conductors are so unencumbered by ego and so efficient,” adding that “the orchestra thanked him for his inspiring presence with enormous vitality in sound.”
  • Lübecker Nachrichten reported that the Dec. 5 concert contained "waves of euphony," adding, "everything was just right."

Alan Gilbert Leads Philadelphia Orchestra in 'Thrilling' Janáček

Alan Gilbert rehearses with The Philadelphia Orchestra

Last week Music Director Alan Gilbert was the guest conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra in a program centered on Janáček's Glagolitic Mass. The rare work was performed alongside Sibelius's Night Ride and Sunrise and Dvořák's The Golden Spinning Wheel. (Rehearsal photo above: Facebook.com/The Philadelphia Singers)

The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, "Thursday's performance will likely stand among the more thrilling of the season. ... Gilbert's artistic cool was a good temperamental match [for the Janáček], shaping and building the piece's wild musical paragraphs but never actually taming them."

Superconductor wrote that in the Dvořák, "Mr. Gilbert's experience as an opera conductor served to drive the story forward, with bright orchestra colors coming from the Philadelphia woodwinds and strings, contrasting with wine-dark figures in the brass and a repeated sense of perpetual forward motion throughout."

Read about Gilbert's guest-conducting stint with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in September.

The Arts Desk Asks Alan Gilbert 10 Questions on Nielsen

When did Music Director Alan Gilbert fall in love with the music of Danish composer Carl Nielsen? He recently told TheArtsDesk.com in a feature titled "10 Questions for Conductor Alan Gilbert":

“I first got to know Nielsen's music a long time ago. ... It was actually the New York Philharmonic playing the Fourth Symphony; I remember a performance that Herbert Blomstedt did that just blew me away. I was stunned, I’d never heard it before, I’d never imagined that such a thing could exist, and he had such a wonderful way with his music.” 

Read the entire Q&A, in which Gilbert discusses a myriad of topics relating to the Orchestra’s ongoing Nielsen Project, such as why the Philharmonic, Nielsen, and Dacapo records is the perfect fit for a multi-year exploration of the composer’s repertoire:

“I wanted to start doing Nielsen symphonies, because I remembered that Fourth Symphony performance that I heard, and I happened to think — and I still think — that the orchestra has a quintessentially Nielsenesque sound, whatever that means. I mean the kind of clarity and the power and precision and the warmth that they can bring to the soaring, singing melodies is, I think, really gorgeous. And it was a kind of fortuitous confluence. It happened that Dacapo was interested in me and the orchestra and, of course, as a Danish company they were interested in Nielsen and things came together in a sort of lucky way and the idea of this sort of panoramic project was hatched.”

Read a roundup of reviews of our latest Nielsen album.

Read a roundup of reviews of our latest Nielsen concerts.

Nielsen Album Wins Critical Praise

"Nowhere else are the works of Nielsen better off than in the hands of the gifted New York Philharmonic Orchestra," wrote the German magazine WiMP, which recently made the latest recording of The Nielsen Project — the Philharmonic's multiyear focus on Carl Nielsen — its CD of the Week.

The album, on Denmark's Dacapo label and distributed by Naxos, features Music Director Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic's performances of Nielsen's Symphony No. 1 and No. 4, The Inextinguishable. The recording is available for purchase and streaming on AmazoniTunesSpotify.

Theartsdesk.com wrote:

Alan Gilbert tears into the opening of Nielsen 4 with some ferocity, sustaining the forward motion very nicely indeed. … Gilbert hasn't micromanaged things, letting an on-form New York Philharmonic let rip.

Gilbert's blazing climax, seven minutes in, has to be heard to be believed. And the Allegro's duelling timps? They're astonishing here … But it's the delectable Symphony No. 1 which I've returned to again and again, Nielsen tipping his hat to Brahms and Dvořák whilst creating something highly individual. Gilbert really nails the music's fiery volatility, and you envy anyone experiencing the piece for the first time. He can also relax, to pleasing effect.

Sinfini Music gave it 4/5 stars: 

The New York Philharmonic playing is mostly magnificent, its horns especially impressive in [the symphonies'] third movements – silky-soft in the coda of the First Symphony’s semi-scherzo and full-throated in the climactic build of the Fourth’s Poco adagio – and its first clarinettist as subtle as can be very early on in both symphonies.

If you’re hearing these symphonies for the first time, too, you won’t fail to be impressed at Gilbert’s rugged pacing.

ClassicsToday.com gave the release a 9/10 rating: 

"These are strong, exciting performances of symphonies that demand the sort of bold muscularity in their execution that these artists offer. In Alan Gilbert’s hands the First Symphony sounds extremely confident and wholly mature. … The playing of the New York Philharmonic throughout is fresh and unaffected, full of spirit and drive.

The performance of the “Inextinguishable” Fourth Symphony also features some really impressive energy and power. In the first movement the brass play with a precision and clarity that few other versions can match, and in the finale the dueling timpani compete with real bravura. ... This is a very impressive release.

Update:

In The New York Times' "Classical Critics Pick the Top Music Recordings of 2014," chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini wrote, "Alan Gilbert again proves an inspired conductor of the visionary Danish composer Carl Nielsen in this impressive live recording with the New York Philharmonic. ... Here are gripping, insightful accounts of the First and Fourth Symphonies." In November, Tommasini wrote, in a New York Times Classical Playlist: "Sometimes a musician just 'gets' a composer’s music, for example, the conductor Alan Gilbert and the Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931). ... [H]e manages to make these scores seem structured and inevitable."  

BBC Music magazine called the recording "fresh and daring," giving it a review of five out of five stars.

MusicWeb International wrote: "This is big-hearted music and Gilbert and the NYPO do it well."

Philharmonic 'Most Progressive Institution on Lincoln Center Plaza': The New Yorker

In a review of the all-Nielsen concerts, October 1–3, The New Yorker's classical music critic Alex Ross wrote:

The New York Philharmonic, keeping up the exploratory urge that it displayed in its inaugural Biennial festival, last spring, remains the most progressive institution on the Lincoln Center plaza. In the first weeks of the season, it offered a vibrant new clarinet concerto by Unsuk Chin, with ear-cleansing solos by the Finnish virtuoso Kari Kriikku; and a concert devoted to the perennially neglected Danish master Carl Nielsen, part of the orchestra’s multi-year Nielsen Project, which also includes recordings for the Dacapo label. Alan Gilbert, the Philharmonic’s music director, has a flair for devising programs that extend and refresh the repertory rather than recycle it ad nauseam.

Ross described Gilbert’s rendition of Nielsen's Fifth Symphony as "confident, majestic, relentless; the roiling crescendo at the center of the second movement bested the Bernstein version." Of the Sixth, "an onslaught of fractured forms and fractious sounds," he wrote: "Gilbert found a through-line in the rumpus, and elicited an ovation from the audience. The concert had the feeling of an event."

Read more reviews of these concerts.

Reviews: Alan Gilbert & Leipzig Gewandhaus in Mahler & Beethoven at Proms

Music Director Alan Gilbert conducted the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra at September's BBC Proms in London. Gilbert replaced the Gewandhaus music director, Riccardo Chailly (who had a broken arm), for its season-opening concerts, September 7–12, in Leipzig, Berlin, Lucerne, and at the BBC Proms.

On September 11, at Royal Albert Hall, Gilbert led Mahler's Third Symphony that The Independent wrote "blew not just our socks but everything else off," and that Music OMH called "exciting" in a 4.5/5-star review: 

[W]hat Gilbert achieved certainly ticked all the boxes as far as I was concerned. Tempos were generally on the swift side, especially in the first movement, yet there was clarity of texture in every bar and he certainly had the unwieldy structure of the entire symphonic span within his grasp. Mahler often interspersed the grotesque and banal within his symphonies and here Gilbert allowed the vulgar marching band snippets their chance to shine.

On September 12, Gilbert conducted the Gewandhaus in the Proms's traditional penultimate performance of Beethoven's Ninth. The Telegraph, in a four-out-of-five-star review, called it an "urgent and often thrilling performance": 

Though the orchestra was large, the sound was light and lithe. ... And yet this wasn’t “Beethoven-lite”. The first movement’s fast pace evoked a relentless march, and the dotted rhythms had a cruel precision. In the Scherzo the kettle-drums assailed our ears with a minatory clatter, and because Gilbert held the strings back the wood-winds and brass seized the centre-stage, like a military band in triumphal mode. Everywhere the military strain of the symphony shone out with unusual clarity.

Standing against that was the lyrical second movement, and here the curling ornamented lines unfolded with delicate grace, as if they were coming from the hands of one pianist rather than a dozen or so violinists. ... This was a Beethoven Nine well worth hearing. 

The Guardian said, "the combination of grace and urgency in the slow movement proved compelling ... and the finale was tremendous. ... There were fine insights from Gilbert here, too, from the almost imperceptible first emergence of the Freude theme out of the silence that preceded it, to the thrillingly precise, yet almost frenzied elation of the closing bars."

'Gilbert, Philharmonic at Their Finest in Carl Nielsen': A Roundup of Reviews

Alan Gilbert NY Philharmonic

In a review of the latest in our “welcome airings” of music by Nielsen, part of a multiyear effort called The Nielsen Project, The New York Times wrote (of Wednesday's concert):

The players clearly share Mr. Gilbert’s enthusiasm for the composer, conveying the music with a commitment and attention to detail that rendered the Fifth [Symphony] an exciting traversal of contrasting moods. … The enigmatic clarinet solo at the end of the first movement was beautifully rendered by Marc Nuccio. The dramatic finale, with skittish winds and subdued strings, contrasted with passages of blazing fury, unfolded with mesmerizing force.

In ConcertoNet.com, Harry Rolnick wrote

Some of us wore our “I Heart Nielsen” badges with utmost pride. But the conductor didn’t need a badge. He conducted the Maskarade overture like it was a circus parade. ... Mr. Gilbert ... leaped and jumped, cued in everybody, and showed a physical enthusiasm for the composer which — even for the unsuspecting audience — was unavoidably infectious. ... 

He conducted the very polarized Fifth Symphony with bravado, with stern attention to the percussion and wind solos, and those countless fugues, with as much transparency as possible. Mr. Gilbert certainly has the orchestra to make these variegated moods live. After all, Leonard Bernstein had the same love for Nielsen. But his recordings of the Fifth, while rich and broad, didn’t even attempt when the conductor did last night. ... Mr. Gilbert made certain that the music rose above the polarity of emotions, he balanced the grand murals with the eccentric solos.

But it was in the Sixth Symphony that Mr. Gilbert gave a performance I could never even imagine. ... The second movement, called Humoreske, is played usually as a debonair parody. Mr. Gilbert decided to make it a full-fledged attack. ... For the introduction, he spaced out the different solos–triangles, drum tapes, wind notes– them over the orchestra. After that, Mr. Gilbert rode the orchestra like it was a mad bull ... 

Reviewing the same concert in New York Classical Review, Amanda Angel wrote, of the Fifth Symphony:

Gilbert set principal percussionist Christopher Lamb on the rest of the Philharmonic, and he relentlessly staged an attack with a variety of dynamics. Sounding at once like a drum major and a rain of bullets, the drumming kept the piece spontaneous and troubling. In a clever bit of stagecraft, Lamb, receded off stage, as Anthony McGill, the orchestra’s new principal clarinet (who will play the solo part of Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto to finish the cycle this January), played a wistful idyll to close the movement. The tension continued through the second movement with a series of roiling tempests, relentlessly pounding timpani, repetitive motifs, and a heroic effort by the horn section.

(Photo: Chris Lee)

Wall St. Journal: Alan Gilbert & Phil Take ‘Uniquely New York Approach’ to Nielsen

"Sibelius has had a kind of renaissance, and he's really accepted now," said Mr. Gilbert. "I think it's Nielsen's turn."

That's a quote from today's Wall Street Journal piece by Corinne Ramey on Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic's Nielsen Project, the multiyear exploration of the Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

The project is notable not only because the Philharmonic has put considerable institutional weight behind promoting a lesser-known composer, but because, at a time when orchestras are often thought to be increasingly stylistically similar, these recordings illustrate a uniquely New York approach. The series' next installment, an all-Nielsen program that includes the fifth and sixth symphonies, begins this Wednesday.

Read the whole article, which talks about how Gilbert got into Nielsen, and how he and the Philharmonic approach his music. Click here for more on the latest Nielsen recording. And join us Wednesday through Friday!

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