Alan Gilbert has been musical director of the New York Philharmonic since September 2009. He was previously chief conductor and musical adviser to the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, and has conducted other leading orchestras
including the Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco symphony orchestras;
the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras; and the Berlin Philharmonic,
Munich's Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Amsterdam's Royal
Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Orchestre National de Lyon. He also holds the William Schuman Chair in Musical Studies at the Juilliard School in New York.
Question: How important is the chemistry between an orchestra and its conductor?
Alan Gilbert: I think it's a unique relationship because
the conductor is an essential part of the equation. The orchestra is
obviously an essential part of the equation. The medium is sound, and
the conductor doesn't make sound, so already that's strange because the
conductor is clearly an important factor in the way a performance goes,
but the conductor doesn't actually make the sound. The musicians, the
players on the stage, make the sound.
So, motivator is part of
it, but there is definitely a craft to conducting, so the ability to
show things in a way that the orchestra can respond in a good way...
there is a technique involved. It's not just that the conductor is only
motivating the... the conductor is definitely in the performance. I
don't know that there's another dynamic that I can think of that is
quite comparable. A lot of managers are interested in what conductors
do. There's actually a little cottage industry of conductors who do
consulting and go speak to businesses to show what the model is because
people seem to find it very interesting, the dynamic between the
conductor and the orchestra. The conductor both leads but also what I
try to do, anyway, is to lead in a way that takes into account what I'm
being offered at the same time, so there's definite traffic both ways. I
try to lead in a way that is taking into account the result of what I'm
provoking, so there's a lot happening all at the same time. I think
that can be a good lesson for managers to really... to expect something
from the orchestra but then to use that expectation to create what
you're asking for at the same time. It's kind of a constant circle
of... a transfer of energy.
Question: Is it hard to make a unified sound with so many disparate musicians?
Alan Gilbert: I think it is hard, and that's after all
what I think is my main job is to try to bring everybody together and to
get them to cooperate and to have a way with a particular piece or a
particular composer. That's one of the things I'm most pleased with,
actually – the way things are going. I feel that there's a really
defined and clear stylistic difference, depending on which piece the
orchestra's playing, which composer the orchestra's playing. What I try
to do is in the rehearsals really go for a certain kind of sound. I
think the sound itself is the most interesting thing that we deal with
as musicians, and I'm trying to help the orchestra, which is of course
great already and is amazing at playing lots of different music. I'm
trying to make it more specific so that for example, when we play Mozart
there's a certain type of sound that we go for on the strings. It
might be a lighter bow stroke or a faster bow stroke. I mean, the
technical things are not important or interesting, but they're ways to
adjust the sound, and I think that it is important to have a distinct
sound for Mozart or even a particular piece of Mozart.
Recorded on June 18, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman