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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[…]

A conductor is a motivator—his main job is to “bring everybody together and to get them to cooperate.”

Question: How important is the chemistry between an orchestra and its conductor?

Alan Gilbert: I think it's a unique relationship because rnthe conductor is an essential part of the equation.  The orchestra is rnobviously an essential part of the equation.  The medium is sound, and rnthe conductor doesn't make sound, so already that's strange because the rnconductor is clearly an important factor in the way a performance goes, rnbut the conductor doesn't actually make the sound.  The musicians, the rnplayers on the stage, make the sound.

So, motivator is part of rnit, but there is definitely a craft to conducting, so the ability to rnshow things in a way that the orchestra can respond in a good way... rnthere is a technique involved.  It's not just that the conductor is onlyrn motivating the... the conductor is definitely in the performance.  I rndon't know that there's another dynamic that I can think of that is rnquite comparable.  A lot of managers are interested in what conductors rndo.  There's actually a little cottage industry of conductors who do rnconsulting and go speak to businesses to show what the model is because rnpeople seem to find it very interesting, the dynamic between the rnconductor and the orchestra.  The conductor both leads but also what I rntry to do, anyway, is to lead in a way that takes into account what I'm rnbeing offered at the same time, so there's definite traffic both ways.  Irn try to lead in a way that is taking into account the result of what I'mrn provoking, so there's a lot happening all at the same time.  I think rnthat can be a good lesson for managers to really... to expect something rnfrom the orchestra but then to use that expectation to create what rnyou're asking for at the same time.  It's kind of a constant circle rnof... a transfer of energy.

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 rnwhat I think is my main job is to try to bring everybody together and torn get them to cooperate and to have a way with a particular piece or a rnparticular composer.  That's one of the things I'm most pleased with, rnactually – the way things are going.  I feel that there's a really rndefined and clear stylistic difference, depending on which piece the rnorchestra's playing, which composer the orchestra's playing.  What I tryrn to do is in the rehearsals really go for a certain kind of sound.  I rnthink the sound itself is the most interesting thing that we deal with rnas musicians, and I'm trying to help the orchestra, which is of course rngreat already and is amazing at playing lots of different music.  I'm rntrying to make it more specific so that for example, when we play Mozartrn there's a certain type of sound that we go for on the strings.  It rnmight be a lighter bow stroke or a faster bow stroke.  I mean, the rntechnical things are not important or interesting, but they're ways to rnadjust the sound, and I think that it is important to have a distinct rnsound for Mozart or even a particular piece of Mozart.

Recorded on June 18, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman