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20.2.10

Alan Gilbert Bores Renaud Machart

Photo of Conductor Alan Gilbert by Mats Lundquist
Conductor Alan Gilbert, photo by Mats Lundquist
Although we have covered Alan Gilbert conducting the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Santa Fe Opera, we have yet to see him conduct the New York Philharmonic in person: the last time the orchestra was in Washington, this past November, Riccardo Muti was at the podium. The Washington Post's Anne Midgette has had some thoughts about Gilbert's tenure, including his season opener last fall and the announcement of his next season. Gilbert took the New York Phil on a European tour earlier this month, including a stop to play two concerts at the Salle Pleyel in Paris (February 1 and 2). The problem, according to hard-hitting critic Renaud Machart, was not the choice of repertoire: "broad and eclectic," from Haydn and Schubert symphonies to Berg, Adams, and Lindberg, as well as Yefim Bronfman in Prokofiev's second piano concerto and (ugh) Rachmaninov's second symphony. Machart, as always, called it like he heard it (Alan Gilbert, clair, équilibré et... ennuyeux à la tête du New York Philharmonic, February 4) for Le Monde (my translation):
The still rather young conductor, it goes without saying, has all the necessary skills for this prestigious post: good technique, a vast repertoire open to diverse styles and periods, all intelligently articulated. [...] On paper Alan Gilbert has everything he needs to be the model of a young conductor of the 21st century, open, accessible, intelligent, polyglot (he speaks French comfortably, has worked in Sweden, is biracial, American and Japanese). But he seems to us to miss the essential part: that indefinable thing that is the undeniable difference between a good musician and an inspired artist. In all that we have heard him conduct up to this point, Alan Gilbert has been balanced, clear, but all too soon banal and boring.

No passion, no "aura," no singularity in the ideas, the sound, the tone. A sort of "safe middle ground" that puts him somewhere between two conductors who are hardly shining stars [braziers] of the art: at worst, Kent Nagano (one of the most inexplicable careers of our day); at best, Esa-Pekka Salonen (whose coldness can create paradoxical thermal shocks). But perhaps that artistic profile suits the New York Philharmonic, a symphonic high-performance race car, revving and oiled, but with neither a flaw nor a soul.
Alan Gilbert will celebrate his 43th birthday on Tuesday, one day after Chopin's. Among the many admirable things happening during his tenure is a series of radio broadcasts hosted by their biggest fan, actor Alec Baldwin (who is a big classical music-head), on XM Satellite Radio for those not in the New York area.

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