Alan Gilbert to Lead New York Philharmonic

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 19, 2007

For Alan Gilbert, who was named yesterday as the next music director of the New York Philharmonic, this orchestra is in his blood.

Gilbert's mother, Yoko Takebe, is a violinist in the Philharmonic, and his father, Michael Gilbert, also a violinist, retired from the orchestra in 2001. "Not only that, but my sister has been an extra violinist in the orchestra, and my cousin is in senior management," Gilbert -- sounding proud, happy and a little overwhelmed -- said yesterday morning by telephone from New York's Lincoln Center, where his appointment was announced. "This is the orchestra I grew up with. I went along with my parents on its tours and attended its concerts almost every week. I would call this a dream come true, although I never even dared to have this dream."

Gilbert, 40, is a native New Yorker -- the first in the 165-year history of the Philharmonic to lead the orchestra -- and the first American appointed to the position since Leonard Bernstein, who was music director from 1958 to 1969.

He will replace Lorin Maazel, the Philharmonic's director since 2002, at the beginning of the 2009-2010 season.

Gilbert's initial contract is for five years and calls for 12 weeks of concerts each season. No financial arrangements were released, but the Philharmonic has generally been one of the best-paying orchestras in the country, and Gilbert's salary is expected to be well in excess of $1 million.

Riccardo Muti, 65, will become the Philharmonic's guest conductor and is expected to lead the orchestra for about six weeks a season. Muti was the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1980 to 1992, and has been approached on several occasions to take the helm of the Philharmonic.

Gilbert's appointment marks a clear shift in the emphasis of the Philharmonic, which has been led by decidedly conservative musicians since the tenure of composer-conductor Pierre Boulez, which ended in 1977. Zubin Mehta, a flashy, extroverted specialist in late-romantic music, led the orchestra from 1978 to 1991; he was followed by the more substantial but no less traditional Kurt Masur, who was the director from 1991 to 2002. Maazel has two more years to run in his appointment. He is considered an extraordinary craftsman but has not found much favor with New York critics, who consider many of his interpretations showy and over-inflected.

Gilbert studied the violin and viola at Harvard, the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the Juilliard School. He was the assistant concertmaster of the Santa Fe Opera, and later returned as the company's music director in 2003. Since 2000, he has been the chief conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, a position he will relinquish to Sakari Oramo at the end of the 2007-2008 season.

He has made guest appearances with the leading orchestras in Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Cleveland, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Although he has conducted regularly in Baltimore, he made his only Washington appearance with the National Symphony Orchestra in 2001. That same year, he made his Philharmonic debut and has since led the orchestra in 31 concerts.

Gilbert has made much of his reputation conducting contemporary and American music over the years, but chose not to talk about programming ideas yesterday except in general terms.

"I'm a little hesitant to mention specific plans," he said. "Not that we haven't started to talk, but I'm afraid that if I mention one thing I'll exclude something else. But I will say that I have an interest in making programs that have an internal logic, with connections that don't necessarily have to be explicit or obvious or even nameable.

"Thematic programming can be exciting, but the real challenge is to combine different pieces of music in thoughtful and unusual ways. The Philharmonic is such a great orchestra that it can play anything at all. Nothing but our imagination can limit our repertory."

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