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Alan Gilbert’s wide-ranging season: NDR Elbphilharmonie, Cleveland Orchestra, La Scala & more
Source: 21c
31/08/2018

With programs featuring ten symphonies and three operas in ten countries across three continents, Alan Gilbert’s full 2018-19 season showcases something of the extraordinary breadth of his range. As Chief Conductor Designate of Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, where he looks forward to inaugurating his tenure next season, the Grammy Award-winning conductor leads concerts and a semi-staged production of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre in Germany, and embarks on an extensive Asian tour. Also a highly sought-after guest conductor, he takes the podiums of no fewer than eleven more ensembles. For his sole U.S. appearances of the season, he returns to the Cleveland Orchestra for Haydn and Busoni. Elsewhere, besides making his Israel Philharmonic debut with a ten-day residency, he rejoins the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, where he serves as Conductor Laureate, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, where he was recently appointed as Principal Guest Conductor; gives his first performances in a decade with the Zurich Tonhalle and Vienna Symphony orchestras; and reunites with some of the other world-class ensembles with which he enjoys strong ties, namely the Berlin Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden, Bavarian Radio Symphony, and Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Finally, beyond the concert hall, he conducts rarely staged 20th-century operas by two very different Viennese composers, making his Dresden Semperoper debut with a new production of Schoenberg’s Moses and Aaron and returning to Milan’s La Scala for Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt.

At home and on tour in Asia with Hamburg’s NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra

Earlier this year, Gilbert scored a fifth Grammy nomination for his new Shostakovich recording with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, where, even before launching his new tenure, he has already been hailed as one of “the most important bearers of hope on Hamburg’s cultural scene” (Abendblatt).
 
In fall concerts in Lübeck and at the Elbphilharmonie, the orchestra’s state-of-the-art new home, Gilbert leads programs anchored by Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony and Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto (Oct 11-14). Their soloist is Inon Barnatan, “one of the most admired pianists of his generation” (New York Times), with whom Gilbert recently recorded the same concerto for a soon-to-be-issued complete Beethoven cycle with London’s Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
 
Together with Brahms’s Fourth, Bruckner’s Seventh is one of the two symphonies with which Gilbert undertakes his first tour as Chief Conductor Designate of the Hamburg orchestra. At concerts in Shanghai, Tokyo, Kyoto, Kamakura, and Nagoya, he directs programs built around each of the two, with pianist Hélène Grimaud as soloist in concertos by Beethoven and Ravel (Oct 28–Nov 8).
 
Named “Best Classical Performance of 2010” by New York magazine and dubbed an “instant [New York] Philharmonic milestone” by the New York Times, Gilbert’s leadership of György Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre was widely acclaimed as a landmark of his eight-year tenure with the orchestra. Now, again in collaboration with visionary director Doug Fitch, he reprises the surrealist opera in semi-staged performances that conclude his NDR Elbphilharmonie season (May 10-13).

Guest engagements in USA, Germany, France, Israel, Japan, and more

Marking his only U.S. appearances of the season, Gilbert returns to the Cleveland Orchestra for Haydn’s “Military” Symphony and Busoni’s Piano Concerto, a monumental rarity that will feature Garrick Ohlsson and a male choir (Feb 7 & 9). Since serving as its Assistant Conductor in the mid-1990s, Gilbert has shared a rapport with the orchestra that “evince[s] levels of comfort and mutual understanding enjoyed only by the initiated” (Cleveland Plain-Dealer).
 
In Europe, after demonstrating “incredible chemistry” (Sächsische Zeitung Dresden) with the Staatskapelle Dresden last season, he returns to lead Mahler’s First Symphony, the world premiere of a new work by Péter Eötvös, and Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto in season-launching concerts at the orchestra’s home and on tour in Italy and Austria, with Lisa Batiashvili as soloist (Aug 29–Sep 8). He also rejoins a number of the other leading German orchestras with which he has established the most meaningful ties. At the Berlin Philharmonic, whose “musicians have faith in him, letting him unleash his creativity to the fullest” (Berlin Morgenpost), he reunites with Batiashvili for a program pairing the Prokofiev with the European premiere of Metacosmos by award-winning Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir (Jan 24-26). With the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, with which he memorably “blew not just our socks but everything else off” (Independent, UK) at London’s BBC Proms, Gilbert conducts all-Czech programs of Smetana and Dvořák, besides playing viola in the latter’s “American” String Quintet (Nov 15-25). And at Munich’s Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, he takes the podium for Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony with soprano soloist Renée Fleming, with whom he previously collaborated on the Grammy Award-winning Decca album Poème (July 13).
 
Other guest engagements see Gilbert give his first performances with the Israel Philharmonic over seven concerts in Tel Aviv and Haifa, for which they are joined by concerto soloists Batiashvili and Barnatan, now playing Rachmaninov’s Second. Other program highlights include Anders Hillborg’s Exquisite Corpse, of which Gilbert is the dedicatee, and Nielsen’s Third Symphony, “Sinfonia espansiva” (Feb 17-27), which is also the vehicle for his upcoming return to Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra (March 30 & 31). The symphony is one that he recorded with the New York Philharmonic; named one of the “Best Classical Music Recordings of 2012” (New York Times), this formed part of “The Nielsen Project,” a long-term initiative recognized as one of the greatest successes of his New York tenure.
 
Returning to the Vienna Symphony for the first time in ten years, Gilbert leads three all-Czech programs featuring Martinů’s Fourth Symphony and Dvořák’s Piano Concerto with Stephen Hough as soloist (Jan 11-16). With Japan’s Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, he leads works by Schumann, Mendelssohn, Strauss, Bizet, and Rimsky-Korsakov in concerts bookending a chamber recital of Brahms’s string sextets, for which he once again plays viola (Dec 10-19). At Sweden’s Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, where he was Music Director for eight years, he conducts an all-French pairing of Debussy and Lili Boulanger (April 3 & 4), and as a regular and favored guest of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, he leads a Hungarian 20th-century program, interspersing works by Ligeti with those of Bartók (March 16).

In the opera house: Dresden and La Scala

Gilbert rounds out his full season with a pair of operas. This fall, he makes his Dresden Semperoper debut leading a new production of Schoenberg’s Moses and Aaron by Calixto Bieito, which stars Sir John Tomlinson and Lance Ryan in the title roles (Sep 29–Oct 15). Then next spring he returns to Milan’s La Scala for a staging of Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt by Graham Vick (May 28–June 17). Already a major player on the opera scene, Gilbert served as music director of Santa Fe Opera, before making his Metropolitan Opera debut with a production of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic that, when released on DVD, scored him his first Grammy Award. His leadership of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin at the Mostly Mozart Festival was chosen as one of the best of 2015 by both New York and the New York Times, which praised the “surging and nuanced performance” he drew from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Last fall, his leadership of a new production of Porgy and Bess at La Scala scored a five-star review in the Financial Times, which marveled: “Has La Scala ever witnessed a conductor having so much fun?

2017-18 highlights

It was last season that Gilbert made his first appearances as Chief Conductor Designate of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, offering “a close-up portrait” of Mahler’s epic Third Symphony that revealed his skills as “a mediator between notes and orchestra” (Abendblatt). Besides touring China with the Staatskapelle Dresden, he returned to the podiums of the Berlin Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre National de Lyon, and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, where his leadership of Beethoven’s Ninth prompted the Leipzig Volkgezeit to marvel at “the creativity and technical craft of this great conductor,” for whom “the greatness of human existence manifests itself above all in beauty.” And at the Royal Swedish Opera, he conducted “a ravishing account” (Opera Critic) of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier.
 
Back in the States, he enjoyed a “stellar reunion” (Cleveland Plain-Dealer) with the Cleveland Orchestra; led John Adams’s Scheherazade.2 with Leila Josefowicz and the Boston Symphony, which “played superbly for him” (Boston Globe); and reunited with the New York Philharmonic, both for a Bernstein tribute in which his “magnificent performance  showed why he’s going to be missed” (New York Times), and for the orchestra’s 175th birthday concert, which he concluded with a traversal of Beethoven’s Fifth that proved “the most spellbinding account of the all-too-familiar masterpiece that this listener ha[d] ever heard” (New York Classical Review).
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