Skip to content
Who's in the Video
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 has to allow his face to show the character of the music. “Sometimes your face looks more serious, sometimes it looks more animated, sometimes it looks more pensive. That’s definitely part of the communication.”

Question: How much do you think your personality comes out in the way you conduct?

Alan Gilbert:  I hope it comes out intensely.  That's notrn to say that it’s about me, that.. I think that conducting is obviously arn visual activity because it's about showing things with your gesture to rnthe musicians.  But I don't want the audience to feel that they have to rnsee a show from me in order to feel how exciting the music is.  But on rnthe other hand, if the music is exciting and if I look unengaged and notrn in it, then that would certainly prevent the experience from being whatrn it really should be.  It's a fine line that you sort of have to walk torn really infuse the performance and the music with your deeply committed rnpersonality while allowing the music to still be paramount.  It's a rntricky thing, and it's what we're all going for.

Do your facial expressions affect the way people play?

Alan Gilbert:  Absolutely.  I mean, you have to allow rnyour face to show the character of the music, but that's not something rnthat I plan.  You don't say, “Well, I want them to think I'm happy, so rnI'll smile now.”  You naturally allow yourself to feel the music and rnthen just as you.. when you're hanging out, sometimes your face looks rnmore serious, sometimes it looks more animated, sometimes it looks more rnpensive.  That's definitely part of the communication.

When you start as a conductor of a new orchestra, how long does it take them to understand your facial expressions?

Alan Gilbert:  It happens right away, actually, or rnhopefully it does.  If it doesn't, then there's probably something rnwrong.  It's interesting.  You can really understand the difference an rnorchestra feels in conductors if you go to a conducting class where rnthere may be six or ten or twelve conductors in a very short span of rntime.  Often it happens that these conductors will be doing the same rnmusic, so you have a really good basis of comparison.

The sound rnis literally different within one second of—or instantly—once a new rnconductor comes on.  They'll conduct the same music that had just been rndone by another conductor, but the orchestra sounds completely rndifferent.  It's uncanny.  There's something in the body language that rnimmediately translates into sound, and that's one of the exciting and rnkind of amazing things about conducting.

Recorded on June 18, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman