Conductor still pushing the envelope

By Korea Herald

New York Philharmonic Orchestra to show breadth of its musical capability in Seoul concerts

  • Published : Jan 14, 2014 - 19:29
  • Updated : Jan 14, 2014 - 19:29
Conductor Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
(Kumho Asiana Cultural Foundation)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director Alan Gilbert is returning to Korea with a program that he says will show “the breadth of what the orchestra can do.”

In two Seoul concerts scheduled for Feb. 6 and 7, the maestro will lead his hometown orchestra in its performances of classic European masters Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, as well as contemporary American composers such as Christopher Rouse and Leonard Bernstein.

“This is a nice pairing because this orchestra can play anything with passion and commitment, with insight and nuance, and so together they allow our Korean audience to hear the breadth of what the New York Philharmonic can do,” he said in an email interview with The Korea Herald. 

Alan Gilbert
The Seoul concerts are part of the orchestra’s two-week Asia tour. It will be the second time that the orchestra has performed in Seoul since Gilbert became its music director in 2009.

The young maestro, who took the helm of America’s oldest and most prestigious orchestra at the age of 42, has been widely credited with opening a new chapter of the orchestra with a new approach to classical music.

“What bothers me most (about what most people think of classical music) is the tendency to classify and separate different voices, different flavors of what I think is really a continuum,” he said. “I try to program music that I think is great ― important or engaging ― no matter what the official genre they are.”

Underscoring his rejection of such classifications, the conductor is putting on his first Broadway show with the New York Phil ― Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” ― with a cast, including opera star Bryn Terfel and Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson.

A native of New York, Gilbert has a special bond with the orchestra. He grew up listening to it, as both of his parents played in its violin section.

Still, what the players do takes his breath away, he said.

“They perform Baroque oratorios and masses with just that special touch called for by the various specialists who visit our podium; purity and perfection in classical symphonies, and passion and persuasion in Romantic masterpieces; an acumen and intelligence in contemporary works; and swing and style in more popular genres like Broadway musicals,” he said.

At Seoul Arts Center on Feb. 6, the New York Phil will perform Beethoven’s “Overture to Fidelio” and Piano Concerto No. 3, featuring Korean pianist Da Sol. The program is to conclude with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

The next day, it will showcase some of the most famous American music ― Christopher Rouse’s “Rapture”; Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances” from “West Side Story” and Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” and “Rhapsody in Blue,” featuring Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone.

The Asian tour back in 2009, which included a visit to Seoul, is one of the most joyful memories of his five years with the orchestra, Gilbert said. He recently earned an extension of his tenure to 2017.

“The audience there was so warm, so expressive of their appreciation of our performance, that I remember it today, and enthusiastically look forward to returning again.” 

Profile of Alan Gilbert

● Born in 1967 in New York 

● Studied at Harvard, Curtis and Juilliard

● Began tenure as the New York Philharmonic’s music director in September 2009

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)